On 19 November, Chile will vote to elect a new president, as well as half of the Senate, 250 national deputies and 270 provincial legislators. The most likely scenario is that no candidate secures an outright majority, resulting in a second round contest between the current frontrunner, conservative candidate Sebastián Piñera with 44% according to recent polls, and centre-left Alejandro Guillier in December.
Was Bachelet a success?
Michele Bachelet began her second term in 2014 with a reformist agenda that promised to overhaul many of the policies that had been inaugurated under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
She had promised a free public health care system and public universities, a rejuvenated, privatised pension system, tax reforms targeting the richest, and a new constitution to replace the Pinochet-era document written in 1980.
Her success was partial: Chile now has a state-funded scholarship program for university students, and minor changes have been made to the tax code and pensions system. The new constitution attempt failed, however.
Bachelet’s ideologically disparate coalition fell apart due to differing views on legislation, and successive political scandals related to illegal campaign funding. Today, presidential approval hovers at just 25%.
The contenders for La Moneda
The two candidates most likely to push Piñera to a run off are Guiller and Beatriz Sanchez, a journalist running for the left-wing Frente Amplio.
Three more candidates are still in the race, albeit distantly. Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a left-wing politician and the son of a marxist guerrilla killed under the dictatorship; Carolina Goic, president of Christian Democratic Party; and Jose Antonio Kast, the representative of Chile’s religious alt-right, who has campaigned on a platform of Christian education in public schools, legal self-defence against criminals and anti-immigration laws. He recently declared that, General Pinochet would vote for him were he still alive,.
Piñera, who was president from 2010 to 2014, is a billionaire businessman standing for market-friendly economic policies.
His business career has brought success and scandal in equal measure. In 1982, Chile had a severe banking crisis, which saw numerous banks declared bankrupt – including Banco de Talca, managed at the time by Piñera. He was bailed out by the national government and corruption charges were retracted – and the judge responsible for the case later admitted that was forced to drop the investigation. Piñera was also implicated in a bribery scandal surrounding airline LAN.
However, Piñera remains popular. Public opinion of politicians in Chile is generally low with corruption a persistent threat. Piñera uses impressive job creation and GDP growth during his former administration – a particular fillip for his campaign given that Chile is in its the midst of its worst 3-year growth period in 30 years.
In second place in the latest opinion polls with 19% is Alejandro Guillier, who promises to maintain the current administration’s reformist agenda. In 2014, he won a seat in the Senate running as an independent candidate in the arid northern region of Antofagasta.
Notably, he is seen as a trusted figure, untarnished by corruption. He initially portrayed himself as an outsider, then changed tack to align himself with the outgoing President Bachelet.
Several gaffes have defined his run for the Palacio de la Moneda. In the most famous of many communication disasters, his campaign team declared that he would adopt a fixed exchange-rate if elected. However, as Chile has an independent central bank, the declaration was heavily criticised by media and analysts before the statement was rescinded.
In a distant third place, Beatriz Sánchez of the left-wing Frente Amplio coalition, formed of 14 smaller parties, social movements, formed in the wake of infamous student demonstrations for free and public healthcare and higher education in 2011. Its vote base is largely young, educated and urban.
Although Sánchez was going strong in the polls in July, the coalition has gradually lost momentum amid internal feuds. The Frente Amplio has turned its attention to the legislative elections instead as a source of more long-term influence.
As Bachelet was ultimately unable to deliver on her promise, Sánchez has renewed calls for a new constitution – along with the nationalisation of private pension funds.
More questions to answer
The most important question for Piñera is how many national deputies his coalition, Chile Vamos, can secure in the legislative election. A majority is virtually impossible, but a large share of seats would likely aid him in implementing his agenda.
Another facet of the vote to watch carefully is the turnout. Compulsory voting was abolished in 2012, and when the 2014 presidential election went to a second round only 50% of Chileans voted. Ultimately, turnout could affect the overall result – and a low participation rate is the only likely course of action that could avoid a second round.
Piñera is the overwhelming favourite to secure a second tenure in the Palacio de la Moneda in a result that will likely please the markets – but few progressive Chileans.