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The Chilean Second Round Elections

Article by Foreign Policy Centre

January 5, 2010

Right-wing could break Concertación’s hegemony

Marco Enríquez-Ormini, an independent candidate, gained third position with 20.12%, followed by Leftist Jorge Arrate of Juntos Podemos (Together we can) with 6.12%.
The advantage achieved by Piñera in the first round was possible due to the heavy demands of Concertación’s campaign – the government coalition launched three candidacies –, and Alianza Por Chile’s successful strategy to exploit the left-wing agenda. In order to win middle class votes, Piñera supported the civil union between homosexuals and the distribution of morning-after pills.
The adoption of themes such as these, foreign to the right-wing agenda, reveals one of the key points of Piñera’s new strategy, who was defeated in 2005 by President Michelle Bachelet: to show himself as a candidate with concerns not typical of the conservative discourse.
As he cannot contest the achievements of the Bachelet government – approved by around 80% of Chileans –, Piñera promised to maintain the current social protection programs.
Piñera’s concern for the lower middle class makes sense. This segment has grown in recent years and become crucial in the election.

Although such a strategy may have been effective, the more conservative segments are displeased with Piñera’s movement towards the centre.

Apart from ideological judgments, the fact is that the strategic agenda proposed by the opposition candidate managed to corner Concertación, bringing the right-wing closer to a historical victory in Chile – since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship the conservatives have been out of power.

Final Results

Candidate Party Votes
Sebastião Piñera Alianza Por Chile 44.03%
Eduardo frei Concertación 29.62%
Marco Enríques-Ominami Independent 20.12%
Jorge Arrate Juntos Podemos 6.21%

Strains of Concertación’s campaign has harmed Frei
The strain of twenty years in power is the main obstacle for Concertación candidate Eduardo Frei. The center-left coalition, which has ruled Chile since 1990, is after its 5th consecutive mandate in the presidential election this year.

The strategy adopted by Frei, so as to alleviate the pressure of running the government, was to assume a progressive discourse, seen as audacious by many.
Unlike the 1984 election when he became president, this election he had to moderate his message and make use of numerous resources. However, since Frei is a candidate who doesn’t inspire “passion”, Concertación’s strategy faces obstacles.

A new constitution was the flagship platform proposed by the candidate, which is considered bold for a Christian-democratic politician.

Eduardo Frei’s proposition was elaborated with the intent to relate Sebastián Piñera to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. In his view, the Magna Carta is the same imposed by the dictator in 1980.

Like Piñera, the government candidate is also investing in the legal recognition of homosexual unions and the free distribution of morning-after pills in the public health system. Furthermore, Frei proposed 17 initiatives concerning human rights.

Frei supports the continuity of Concertación in power for believing it is necessary to expand the country’s democracy and development, concerns characteristic of center-left governments.

Another topic of Eduardo Frei’s discourse is the promise to expand Bachelet’s social programs, which will be suspended, according to him, should Piñera be elected president.
In face of all this we should expect a more aggressive campaign by Frei in the 2nd round against his opponent. Because of the advantage he gained in the 1st round, the Concertación candidate is expected to enter the dispute somewhat weaker.

Bachelet’s popularity unhelpful to Frei

In the mind of Eduardo Frei and his allies, President Michelle Bachelet’s high popularity (80%) was expected to be a point in favor of Concertación. However, the Chilean president could not transfer this same popularity to her candidate.

Although this hasn’t come as a complete surprise – popularity is personal and untransferable – the most confident government supporters believed Bachelet’s presence alongside Frei would help Concertación, which, in fact, did not happen.

At the same time that Michelle Bachelet will end her term as the most popular president in Chilean history, she might have to hand over office to Sebastián Piñera, her political adversary.

Feelings of renewal hampered vote transfer

Even though the Bachelet government was efficient in using social programs to leverage her popularity, the feeling of renewal has helped opposition.

Strains in the government party and the search for “new” politics began within the political system itself. Concertación, which has always united to defeat the Right, came out with three candidacies. Moreover, Marco Enríquez-Onimani, the independent candidate, gained more than 20% of the presidential vote.

These are indicators that Chilean politicians and electorate are after something “new”, a sentiment that was well exploited by Sebastián Piñera and his strategists.
Another factor that harms the government and helps the opposition is the candidacy of Eduardo Frei. In a scenario where the key-word is innovation, the choice of an ex-president – even if with a “new” program – made it easy for Piñera to strengthen his discourse of change.
As he has already been president of Chile and carries the weight of twenty years of Concertación governments, it was easy to label Frei an “old” candidate opposed to innovation.

Frei will try to “glue” his image to Bachelet’s

When Frei hit the final straight in the 1st round he changed his strategy. Instead of defending the achievements of the Concertación governments, he opted to try and “glue” his image to President Michelle Bachelet’s, who was positively evaluated by nearly 80% of Chileans, according to last polls.

According to sources related to Frei’s campaign, Bachelet’s participation in the campaign will be greater in the 2nd round. Besides using the president’s image, Carolina Tohá (secretary of the Interior) and Juan Carvajal (Bachelet’s director of communications) will delegate their functions in order to concentrate fully on the campaign.

Furthermore, Concertación intends to exploit what they classify as the “confusion” Piñera makes between politics and business. One of the criticisms is that in 2006 the presidential candidate used privileged information to buy shares in LAN Airlines.

In an interview with the press, Sebastián Bowen, Frei’s campaign coordinator, said that the strategy for the 2nd round will be combining the defense of Bachelet government with criticism of Piñera.

2nd round: Piñera starts ahead, but dispute will be balanced
Sebastián Piñera, the Alianza por Chile candidate, starts the 2nd round with an advantage of 14.41% over Concertación’s Eduardo Frei. Mathematically a vote swing is still possible for Frei, seeing that the votes for Marco Enríquez-Ominami (20.12%) and Jorge Arrate (6.21%) amount to 26.3%. Also, the voters for both candidates defeated in the 1st round are closer in ideological terms to Concertación.

The problem is that besides the desire for innovation within Chilean society, the center-left coalition is worn out. Added to which is the fact that Piñera’s strategy worked so well in the 1st round. Even being a conservative candidate he leaned towards the center of the ideological spectrum and didn’t hesitate in defending leftist issues.
The electoral battle in the 2nd round will be fierce. Piñera starts with 44.03% against Frei’s 29.62%. What will define the election is where the voters for Marco Enríquez-Ominami and Jorge Arrate migrate to.

By the 1st round logic suggests that Alianza por Chile will win this election, inflicting a historical defeat upon Concertación. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the fact that the voters for Ominami and Arrate are ideologically closer to Concertación and that Michelle Bachelet’s participation in the campaign will be more active.

On account of all these factors, the electoral dispute is expected to be a balanced one. Piñera is favorite to win, but there is room for Frei to shift the trend and take Concertación to a 5th consecutive mandate.

Negotiation with Congress will be crucial to the next government

Irrespective of who the next Chilean president might be – Eduardo Piñera or Eduardo Frei – it will take a lot of negotiation with Congress to obtain parliamentarian majority and implement his agenda. In the House of Representatives Concertación lost its majority in the current legislature. The opposition, however, does not have absolute majority, even though it has grown.

In the Senate, the situation remained balanced. Concertación still has the most chairs even having lost one. The same happened with the opposition.

House of Representatives
Party/coalition Number of chairs in present legislature Number of chairs in next legislature Variation
Alianza por Chile 54 57 +3
Concertación 65 54 -11
Independents 1 1 +3

Party/coalition Number of chairs in present legislature Number of chairs in next legislature Variation
Alianza por Chile 17 16 -1
Concertación 20 19 -1
Independents 1 4 +3

Chilean election could be a role model for PT and PSDB in Brazil

Keeping it in proportion the Chilean presidential election may provide a role model in terms of electoral strategies for PT and PSDB in Brazil in 2010. In Chile, a government with elevated popularity (Michelle Bachelet) couldn’t transfer its positive indicators to Eduardo Frei. On the other hand, comparing the Concertación governments with Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship failed as a strategy.
All that happened because candidate Sebastián Piñera was clever in “stealing” his opponent’s agenda. While he presented a proposal for innovation, he also managed to adopt issues typically supported by the Chilean Left.

In Brazil, the presidential succession in 2010 might hold some similarities with what we have witnessed in Chile. Here, one of PT’s strategies is to compare the Lula government with that of FHC [acronym for ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso]. Furthermore, the Palácio do Planalto (Palace of the Plateau) is investing in vote transfers from President Lula to Minister Dilma Roussef, his candidate.

As far as opposition is concerned, PSDB still lacks a clear-cut strategy. Rumor has it that the tucanos [toucans, as PSDB members are known] will do whatever they can to escape comparisons between the governments of Lula and FHC, which favors PT. Taking advantage of São Paulo governor José Serra’s experience, PSDB might compare his trajectory to Dilma’s.

Even though both electoral processes are different, last Sunday’s election in Chile could be a role model for the Brazilian presidential election. Though it might be tempting to compare presidencies, it is important to come up with new proposals, as the electorate is interested in what they are offered for the future.

In what concerns PT, it is important to keep in mind that defending the Lula government and counting on the transfer of the president’s popularity to Dilma won’t be enough to elect her.

PSDB must find their agenda and, more importantly, convince voters to go for an opposition proposal in a scenario where most are pleased with the social and economic achievements by the Lula government.

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