Transferring Power in a Crisis: Presidential Transition in Chile, 2010

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Abstract 

In early 2010, Chile’s democracy faced a stern test. A January presidential runoff election had paved the way for the first hand-over between opposing political coalitions since Chileans had pushed out autocrat Augusto Pinochet in 1990. Two decades of rule by a left-leaning coalition of political parties called Concertación had obviated the need for any formal transition process from 1990 to 2010. Now, with the election of the first conservative leader since the dictatorship, politicians and civil servants on both sides had to find ways to ensure a smooth transition. The complicated process had just begun when a massive earthquake devastated Chile’s southern half, killing hundreds of people and causing damage equal to 17% of the country’s gross domestic product. Preparation, including policy planning and staff recruitment early on by the Sebastián Piñera administration and briefings from the outgoing Michelle Bachelet team enabled the new president to get to work quickly. The hand-over demonstrated the strength of Chile’s democracy and set a precedent for future cross-coalition transitions.

Robert Joyce drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Santiago in August 2014. Case published in November 2014.

Associated Interview(s):  Edmundo Perez Yoma

Keywords 
recruitment
policy planning
crisis management
information transfer
democratic transition
dictatorship
civil service
spoil system
presidential appointment
presidential transition
political opposition
elections
political transition
democratic process
Focus Area(s): 
Centers of Government
Civil Service
Critical Tasks: 
Transitions
Core Challenge: 
Coordination
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Country of Reform: 
Chile
Type: 
Case Studies
Author: 
Robert Joyce