Elections: Can the left reverse the defeat of the first round of the presidential elections in Chile? | Opinion


Gabriel Boric, candidate for the Presidency of Chile, last Sunday.
Gabriel Boric, candidate for the Presidency of Chile, last Sunday.Xinhua via Europa Press (Europa Press)

Chile will have to choose the successor of Sebastián Piñera in a ballot that will take place on December 19. Another presidential election (the sixth consecutive since 1999) that will be defined in the second round following the current trend in Latin America. During this year, of the five countries with presidential elections, three regulate the second round (Ecuador, Peru and Chile) and in all of them the president was or will be elected by ballot. The same will probably happen in the three presidential elections of 2022: Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil.

The Chilean experience with the second round

Chile is one of the countries in the region that more times chose its presidents in the second round. Of the seven previous elections (between 1989 and 2021) only Patricio Aylwin and Eduardo Frei (first and second elections in 1989 and 1993 respectively) were elected in the first round. The remaining five terms, of Ricardo Lagos, Michele Bachelet, Sebastián Piñera, again Bachelet and Piñera had to go to the ballot. In all cases, whoever won in the first round repeated the victory in the second round. But in none of these five previous elections did the two candidates who went to the second round meet these two characteristics: a voting percentage below 30% (José Antonio Kast 27.9% and Gabriel Boric 25.8%) and a difference between the two less than 3%. We are facing an unprecedented situation.

What are the main regional trends?

The comparative analysis of all the Latin American presidential elections held since the beginning of the Third Democratic Wave to date shows that in 56 of them there was a need to go to a ballot to elect the president. While in 39 of these 56 (70%) the winner of the first round was confirmed, in 17 cases (30%) the person who had occupied second place in the first round triumphed in the ballot, that is, there was a reversal of the result (RR) .

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Let’s see what the disaggregated data says for these 17 reversals.

Eight of the 17 reversed results, that is, 47% (Argentina 2003, Colombia 2014, Costa Rica 2018, Ecuador 1984, 1996 and 2006, Guatemala 1990-91 and 2019), occurred when the one who won the first round obtained less than 30% of the votes.

Five out of 17, or 29%, were reversed when the difference between first and second place was less than 3% (Argentina 2003 and 2015, Ecuador 1984 and 1996, and Guatemala 1990-91).

And only four of the 17, or 23% (Argentina 2003, Ecuador 1984 and 1996 and Guatemala 1990-91), were reversed when the two conditions currently present in the first Chilean round were combined: both candidates with less than 30% and with a difference between them of less than 3%.

Ecuador with four is the country with the highest number of reversals, followed by Peru with three, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala and Uruguay with two each, and Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic with one each. Chile, as we have already pointed out to date, does not register any reversal.

The two factors that characterize the first Chilean round are that both candidates have a percentage of votes below 30% and that there is a difference between them below 3%. Of these two points, the first is the one that opens the most possibilities for a reversal of the result due to the high volume of new votes that must be obtained to win in the second round. But be careful, it increases the possibility but does not guarantee it.

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A new choice

The ballot is not the second half of the same election; constitutes a new one. While in the first round you vote in favor of a candidate (with your heart), in the second you vote not only in favor of a candidate but also against the other option (that is, with your heart and liver).

The comparative regional experience shows that reversing the result in a ballot is complex and difficult but feasible and that it depends to a great extent on two key variables.

One, electoral participation. Although the comparative trend is that in the second rounds participation decreases, in the cases of competitive and polarized ballots, such as this one, participation increases. Likewise, in the second rounds there is the possibility that a different electorate will go to vote – in quantitative and qualitative terms – from the one who voted in the first round, especially in a country like Chile, with a voluntary vote and a low and low level of participation. fluctuating, less than 50%. Some voters decide not to participate because their favorite candidate did not make it to the ballot. Others participate but cancel their vote or vote blank. A third group that participated in the first round now opts to “lend” their votes to a candidate who is not their favorite, with the aim of avoiding the triumph of the candidate they perceive as the “evil or the greatest danger.” A fourth group decides to participate and ratify their vote for the candidate of the first round that passed the ballot. A fifth group, although they voted for one of the two candidates who did vote, this time opted (for various reasons) not to participate. And a sixth group, which abstained in the first round, decides to go to the polls to support their candidate or to prevent the candidate they perceive as the “danger” for Chile from reaching the presidency. For Boric it is critical to get the latter group to vote in his favor and in a significant number.

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The second variable for Boric to reverse the result is made up of two factors. First, to achieve a credible and successful moderation of his proposal, which via agreements with other political forces allows him to win new voters who did not support him in the first round; and second, to articulate a broad coalition against Kast, whom he must present as the “greatest evil or danger” to avoid.

On the way to the ballot, Kast starts with a slight advantage over Boric but nothing is yet defined. The options are still open. Reversing a result is not an easy task, but it is not impossible either, as shown by the 17 cases analyzed in this article, including the four that took place in the last five years in South America: Mauricio Macri in Argentina (2015), Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Peru ( 2016), Luis Lacalle Pou in Uruguay (2019) and Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador (2021).

Daniel Zovatto is regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). @ zovatto55

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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