May 16, 2016 / 9:02 PM / 2 years ago

Chilean ex-student leader forms new party to tap into voter discontent

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Former student leader and popular Chilean lawmaker Giorgio Jackson is starting a left-wing party that he hopes will mobilize disillusioned voters and herald a shake-up in a political system that has hardly changed in decades.

The party, Revolucion Democratica or Democratic Revolution said it officially registered with the electoral service on Monday after gathering the necessary 10,000 signatures.

At only 29, Jackson is constitutionally too young to run for the presidency at the next election in 2017, but his new party reflects a changing political environment in the world’s top copper exporter.

An electoral reform passed last year should make it easier for smaller parties like his to thrive, breaking up the dominance of the two main political coalitions at a time when disillusionment is high.

Jackson was among student activists who led a movement during the former center-right government of Sebastian Pinera demanding reforms to Chile’s highly privatized education system.

Several ex-student leaders entered Congress in the 2013 elections, including the movement’s figurehead, Camila Vallejo. She joined the Communist Party, a part of President Michelle Bachelet’s broad left-leaning Nueva Mayoria coalition that pledged to address education as a priority.

Jackson, though, joined the lower house of Congress as an independent lawmaker and has regularly criticized the government and political class as corruption scandals, a slow pace of reforms and a weak economy have driven down Bachelet’s once sky-high approval ratings. The right-wing opposition has fared even worse.

But Jackson’s ability to channel voter dissatisfaction has earned him the highest approval ratings of any politician. A poll by CEP last November showed 44 percent of respondents seeing him in a positive light.

“In a moment where the political system is questioned, this (poll popularity) is a very valuable asset,” said London School of Economics political analyst Kenneth Bunker. The party “will be an oasis in a desert of what people sense as a corrupt party landscape.”

Democratic Revolution says it wants to fight for greater equality in Chile, which still suffers deep-seated inequality despite being one of Latin America’s most stable economies.

However, persuading disillusioned Chileans to join the new party had been difficult, Jackson said.

“The first barrier was to persuade people who have been convinced for many years that politics is something to fear ... to join an alternative,” he told Cooperativa radio.

“If not, we are accepting it will be the same choice as always.”

Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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