Chile’s presidential elections

With the nation facing considerable economic difficulties and outgoing president Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party seeing a sharp drop in her popularity, a major reversal for the left was expected in November 19 elections in Chile. Considering these headwinds, however, the left-center forces did not fare too badly. Citizens voted for a new president as well as senators, congresspersons, and local officials in the November 19 poll. The presidential race will now head to a runoff to take place December 17.
In the legislative elections (for 23 seats in the 43-member Senate, or upper house, and all 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, or lower house) a similar alignment of forces has emerged from the election. The right-wing parties lined up with Piñera’s neoliberal, socially conservative politics will now have the most seats in the both houses.
Chile Vamos got 19 seats in the Senate and 73 in the Chamber. This falls short of a majority in either house, and they have few other right-wing colleagues to whom they can turn for alliances. At the same time, the Force of the Majority left-center alliance that backed Guillier’s presidential bid got 15 seats in the Senate and 43 in the Chamber of Deputies. They will have to make legislative alliances with the other left and centrist forces who have representation in the legislature.
The Christian Democrats were a strong party before the bloody military coup d’état of September 11, 1973, which overthrew Socialist Party President Salvador Allende and initiated the long dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1988, the Christian Democrats, as well as the Socialists, have been a key part of what was called the “Concertación” alliance of political parties which won every election until Piñera’s first election as president in 2010.
In the 2013 elections, for the first time, the Communist Party joined in coalition with the Christian Democrats, Socialists, and others to form the New Majority Party. In that election, the Socialist Party’s Bachelet won the presidency and the New Majority parties won a narrow majority in the Senate and a large plurality in the Chamber of Deputies.
The logical step for the left and center-left forces now will be to ally with the large new contingent from the Broad Front, as well as with the other small left-wing parties. It will also be necessary to get the support of the Christian Democrat centrists in order to constitute a parliamentary majority.
There is also dissatisfaction with Bachelet’s government on the left. Within the governing New Majority coalition, there are sharp differences of opinion over a number of policies. For example, Bachelet’s decision to follow Piñera’s initiative of making Chile part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership met with strong opposition from the Communist Party, which also criticizes the government’s negative stance toward Venezuela.
Labour, youth, and student groups have wanted the government to break with the centrist policies of the Concertación period and move more decisively to reverse Pinochet-era laws which have favored private schooling and a semi-privatized pension system.
There is, then, a strong push coming from many sides for more solid progressive advances, as evidenced by the larger, but fractured, left-wing vote. With all the shifting of political alliances and the simmering of policy conflicts, it cannot yet be assumed that dissatisfaction with Bachelet’s government will necessarily mean a move to the right. December 17 will be a day to watch closely—not just for Chile, but for all of the left in Latin America and more broadly. (IPA)

Wednesday, 22 November, 2017