Chile shuffles cabinet as ruling coalition prepares for 2005 elections

Defense and Foreign ministers stepped down to run for presidency next year

When Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Santiago to attend to Asian Pacific Countries (APEC) Annual Summit on November 19th, Chile's Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear won't be at the airport to welcome him. Mrs. Alvear, as well as her Defense colleague, Michelle Bachelet, stepped down on Wednesday in moves making easier for them to run for presidency in 2005 elections.

Alvear and Bachellet are Chile’s Socialist President Ricardo Lagos front-runners for their parties' nominations and eventually represent the ruling center-left coalition in a tough race against right-wing Santiago’s Mayor, Joaquin Lavin, who stands at the top of the preferences. Lagos himself undertook the changes and said the outgoing ministers "will now have the opportunity to continue to serve their country and their people in other tasks" in politics.

President Ricardo Lagos picked former Christian Democratic Congressman Ignacio Walker to be foreign minister and moved Jaime Ravinet, also a Christian Democrat, from the Housing Ministry to replace Bachelet.

Lagos move, even when expected, took place before analysts' predictions. It was clear both ladies are his best options to face the rightist challenge, but the president had said that no move would be undertaken before October municipal elections. Now, Alvear, a Christian Democrat, and Bachelet, a member of the Socialist Party, will also now be able to actively participate in the campaigning for municipal elections, which opens next week.

According to observers, Bachelet, a 54 year-old physician is the only one with chances to defeat Lavin. Mrs. Alvear, was a permanent target of the right wing opposition for the negative of Chile to join the US-led coalition in Iraq. Chile was member of the UN Security Council in 2003 and voted against the US resolutions with Russia and France.

A post at the national cabinet ties the hands of the Chilean politicians to run in elections, as ministers are supposed to limit their campaigning to after-office hours, or risk criticism from the opposition that they are politicizing their portfolios or failing to pay full attention to their duties.

Photo: Former Defense Minister, Michelle Bachelet, stands the best chances of defeating a right wing alternative in 2005 presidential elections

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Author`s name Olga Savka