Presidential elections in Chile: the keys to the most uncertain election in three decades | International


A scene from the presidential debate organized by the University of Chile, on November 1.
A scene from the presidential debate organized by the University of Chile, on November 1.Alberto Valdes (EFE)

It is an election marked by uncertainty where surprises are not ruled out. In the Chilean generals of this Sunday, November 21, a good part of the Congress will be renewed – the 155 deputies and 27 of the 50 senators -, but the dispute that concentrates the most citizen attention is in the presidential one, which is highly polarized. With seven competitors, none exceeds 30% of adherence, according to the latest polls, and 23% of voters are still undecided, according to polls, so electoral participation in a voluntary voting system will be a factor determining factor that could tip the balance. Although it is an open and competitive race to La Moneda, however, the dispute seems to be centered on two applicants. On the left, the candidate of the I Approve Dignity alliance, Gabriel Boric, supported by the Broad Front and the Communist Party, who offers a profound agenda of changes, in line with the constituent process. On the right wing, the leader of the Republican Party, José Antonio Kast, who does not belong to the ruling party of Sebastián Piñera, and offers the order and stability lost after the revolts of 2019. Meanwhile, the political center appears without much possibility, with the heir to the defunct center-left Concertación –Yasna Provoste– with narrow chances of going to the ballot according to opinion polls, as well as the standard-bearer of the ruling coalition, Sebastián Sichel.

What is playing this Sunday?

This Sunday is a dispute with an ideological cleavage, but at the same time generational: while Boric concentrates support among those under 30 years of age, Kast has his strength among those over 60. Both, in turn, are surprising candidates for their respective sectors, because their bets just a few months ago were purely testimonial, which changed as polarization began to mark this race against La Moneda. It is an election of central relevance, not only because of the complex economic situation that Chile faces, with an inflation that could reach 7% in 2021. The next government will have to control the street, implement the new Constitution if it is approved in an exit plebiscite in the second semester of next year and, above all, manage the tense Chilean political scene, with a Congress without large majorities.

Why is the left strong in Chile?

The social uprisings of October 2019 were a complex phenomenon, which mixed unprecedented violence with legitimate demonstrations for quality public goods, in terms of education, pensions and health. But although the outbreak did not have political heads – neither party nor union flags were seen on the street – it was the left that capitalized on the discontent, with an interpretation of the need for profound changes that would mark a turn to what was built by Chile since the return to democracy. The center-left, which led the first four governments of the transition, in the midst of the tensions was not able to defend its legacy and was left behind on the left, led by the Broad Front, made up mostly of under-40 leaders who observe We can in Spain. With a view to these presidential elections, the formation made an alliance with the strong tradition of the Communist Party, which to this day maintains its full adherence to the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In recent decades, it did not turn towards moderate positions, such as the Italian Communist Party.

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With the center-left on the floor without knowing how to process the emergence of the Broad Front from the left, the speeches became extreme over the months, while the left was reaping consecutive electoral victories. In the plebiscite of October 2020, the option of those who were about to change the current Constitution, which dates from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, but which had thirty reforms in democracy, overwhelmingly won: 78.28% against 21, 72%. Although among those who voted for a change in the Fundamental Charter there were sectors of the right, again the left was the one that emerged as the winner with the result, which was a kind of support for a path of profound changes. Then, last May, the election of the 155 conventionalists who write the new Constitution was held and the right wing was cornered, without even achieving the third of the necessary constituents to veto the norms. In the opposition, meanwhile, the first force of the organ with the greatest political relevance for Chile remained in the hands of the alliance between the Broad Front and the Communist Party, I Approve Dignity.

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Why does the extreme right have options for La Moneda?

The moderates stopped being fashionable in Chile. “Everything that is agreement, pact, rapprochement and moderation, which is typical of democratic politics, has been reduced to that idea of cookery”, Assured a few days ago the political analyst María de los Ángeles Fernández. The ruling party candidate, Sichel, who represents the independent and young world of the right, has been losing strength in recent months, so leaders of the government coalition began to support Kast, who did not compete in the sector’s primary. “We are going to pay dearly for weakness to condemn violence, to cowardice to impose the rule of law and tolerance for disorder, fire and the destruction of public and private property,” said the academic Mauricio Morales, in reference to the immense fissure of the opposition through which the leader of the Republican Party ended up straining. Part of the doctrinal right that has not broken with Augusto Pinochet, Kast has managed to tune in with part of the citizenry that transcends the right, to which a discourse based on order, economic stability and immigration control makes sense. a need that is observed above all in the humble sectors.

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According to the latest polls, Kast could pass Boric in the first round.

Why will participation be key in this election?

Chile suffers from structural abstentionism. In the last elections in June, where regional governors were elected for the first time, less than 20% of those summoned participated. It was a historical mark of low turnout that, however, did not surprise the experts: since the 1988 plebiscite that sealed the fate of the Pinochet dictatorship, turnout in the elections has fallen unstoppably.

In 2012, when voluntary voting came into force, the trend accelerated and in the 2016 municipal elections only 36% participated, the previous record for low participation. In the presidential elections of 2017, where Piñera won, 50% participation was not reached either, neither in the first nor in the second round. For the October 2020 plebiscite that defined the fate of the current Constitution – probably the most important election in recent decades – 50.95% of the electoral roll went to the polls. The percentage – good for some and mediocre for others, given the importance of the election – was explained in large part because participation increased among young people 18 to 29 years old. As a counterpart, however, those over 50 years of age, who were loyal voters, stopped participating, probably due to the covid-19 pandemic.

The presidential elections summon a greater number of people and it was in evidence in the middle of the year. The left held its presidential primaries in July, where Boric was elected against the communist candidate, in which 1.7 million people participated. In parallel, the ruling party summoned 1.3 million voters, in the consultation in which Sichel was finally elected. In Sunday’s results, then, it will be crucial that the different political sectors manage to mobilize their electorate. If young people vote more, as in the 2020 plebiscite, it will be a boost for Boric. If the older ones come out again, on the other hand, Kast will have a better chance.

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What happens in Piñera?

The protests put all the institutions on the ropes, including the parties of all sectors, but left Piñera’s conservative government on the ground, which since then has not been able to recover. Not even the successful process of purchasing covid-19 vaccines (41,146,744 doses have been purchased) has managed to push the president and his Administration in the surveys – around 16%, according to the latest Cadem survey – and it is in through an impeachment process. After the publication of the Pandora Papers, related to the sale of a mining project through a company offshore in the British Virgin Islands – the opposition filed a constitutional indictment to remove him, four months after he left power. The Chamber of Deputies approved the accusation last week and this Tuesday, five days before the elections, the Senate must rule as a jury. It is unlikely, however, that the senators will dismiss Piñera, because a high quorum is needed. In any case, it will be an important element in the last hours of an electoral campaign where vote by vote is played, although even the official candidate Sichel has tried to detach himself from his figure.

How could Parliament change?

It is the second parliamentary election under the new proportional system, so it will have “high degrees of competition and uncertainty, reinforced this time by the competitiveness and uncertainty of the presidential election, which has a significant impact on the parliamentary result,” he says in a report by the political expert Pepe Auth, current deputy. According to its projections, the right would drop from 72 to 61 deputies, although with a strong rise from the Republican Party of Kast, which would officially debut in Parliament with 10 seats. The left of Approve Dignidad, Boric’s coalition, would rise from 32 to 44 deputies, while the center-left –grouped in the New Social Pact–, would drop from 49 to 41 parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies. According to Auth’s projections, the most relevant change in the Senate would be the strong entry of the left. If they currently have a senator, Boric’s alliance could reach eight senators in the next legislative term.

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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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