474 Politics of Latin America
labor's other concerns. Second, even on those few selected issues, the Concertacion failed to pass legislation that significantly reformed the labor code. Thus, organized labor's ability to engage in collective bargaining from a position of strength was stymied at every turn. Here, intransigent right-wing politicians—exercising their veto power in the Senate—and direct lobbying by big business were the main culprits. Yet the Concertacion's readiness to cave in to business opposition raised doubts about the coalition's allegiance to labor, a presumably important constituent of the center-Left governing coalition. This contributed to serious tension between organized labor and the Concertacion.
Deepening economic development and social equality presented further challenges. Although Chile succeeded in diversifying the commodities it exports, its economy was still essentially an agromineral extractive one. In 2000, as in the 1950s and 1960s, the challenge was to add value to those commodities and generate whole new industries in Chile, increase wages, build service industries, and accelerate economic growth. The Asian economic crisis-induced recession of 1999, which ended Chile's record of uninterrupted high economic growth since the mid-1980s, exposed Chile's vulnerability to agro-export and market specialization. As a result, the recession helped place industrial policy on the agenda again. Moreover, after years of dormancy due to the complacency that economic success had generated, the economic crisis also focused attention on the persistence of unequal income distribution (in 1994 Chile ranked among the most unequal in Latin America) and the high price of services (education, health, housing, utilities). Consequently, there was a sharp upswing in the debate over the tax and regulatory policies necessary to deal with those issues.
In March 2000, the third government of the Concertacion renewed the center-Left coalition's commitment to confront the darker legacies of the military government. The December 1999 election was unique in that the Concertacion's candidate was Socialist Ricardo Lagos, a former cabinet member of the Allende government. Joaquin Lavin ran for a conservative coalition (RN and UDI) that called itself the Alliance for Chile. Although nominally from UDI, Lavin conducted an independent minded campaign. The vote was close and the presence of candidates from several other parties kept either of them from obtaining an absolute majority. This forced a run-off election in January 2000, which Lagos won with 51.3 percent of the vote to Lavin's 48.7 percent.
The Lagos campaign's platform pledged the administration to renew efforts to resolve the human rights question, to reform the constitution and the labor code, to improve access to higher quality health and education, and to reduce social inequality. What are the chances that Lagos' government may have more success than its predecessors? To begin with, the human rights question runs like a thread through many of the issues central to institutional reform. Thus, advances on that front may open opportunities for further reforms that are key to the restoration of full political democracy.