Michelle Bachelet has moved herself into a stronger position for the November 2013 presidential election by getting the endorsement of the Communist Party. This is some good old fashioned horse trading.
Since the end of the military dictatorship 23 years ago, the Communist Party has refused to be part of the Concertación, choosing a more militant but politically peripheral position. Interestingly, it had been more moderate than the Socialists during the Salvador Allende years, but the latter played an instrumental role in negotiating the transition whereas the Communists rejected it.
In recent years, the party has been central in the school protests. On Twitter J.F. String questioned whether endorsing Bachelet was--as I had suggested--a way to avoid being politically irrelevant. But you could argue that this is striking while the iron is hot. Generating protests is one thing, but getting the policy result you want is another. Doing this now gives the party more leverage to get legislative slots. Indeed:
In return for the Communist backing Bachelet is letting famed student activist Camila Vallejo run for Congress without a challenge from her centre-left bloc. Vallejo, who has expressed caution about backing Bachelet, is part of a push to expand Communist strength in Congress from three to 10 seats.
This matters in the binomial system, as the hope is that Vallejo can get all the Concertación votes rather than have them split. In addition, as John Carey and Peter Siavelis have argued, the Concertación provides appointed posts (if it wins the presidency, of course) to legislative losers. Thus, the Communist Party becomes a player in Bachelet's camp.
The right is already trying to capitalize, immediately mentioning Hugo Chávez (who remains the boogeyman of the day even in death). Will this endorsement make Bachelet voters stay home? That's difficult to imagine given her popularity. Plus, this is 2013, not 1973. Instead, this might give her the sort of margin she needs, especially in runoffs, which have been very tight: the Communist Party accounts for about 5% of the vote.