Piñera and Guillier to the Runoff
Piñera and Guillier to Runoff Election December 17!!
The headline on Monday morning November 20 was not surprising. Ex-President Sebastian Piñera, with his coalition of the right (Chile Vamos) was expected to lead the voting in the first round of this presidential election. And Alejandro Guillier of the coalition of center left parties (mostly those of the governing Nueva Mayoría coalition), was expected to gain second place.This happened: Piñera 36% and Guillier 22%. Hence, the need for a runoff between the two in almost a month. But that’s not the whole story. What lurks in these results is a political onion, and as you peel off the layers you can almost hear Violeta Parra’s haunting voice: “Cambia, Todo Cambia“. *
Piñera, his supporters, and most pundits predicted a larger victory, with some dreaming (or was it premature boasting?) of the possibility of a first round victory with over 50% of the vote. More realistic observers acknowledged he would have to go to a runoff, but have an easy time winning the second round if his number in the first round came in above 40% and with at least a 15 point lead over the second place candidate.He didn’t do that well, but he moves to the second round as the clear winner, albeit a nervous one.
Guillier came in with the number of votes most had predicted, 22%. No surprise there, but what did surprise was the significantly robust voting for Beatriz Sanchez, who came in a close third with 20% against earlier predictions that at times hovered around 10%. Pundits had suggested that she needed at least 15% and that her new left coalition Frente Amplio (FA) would also need to win at least 12 seats in the parallel congressional ellections for her leadership of this movement to be taken seriously. Well, she is certainly being taken seriously now; she came close to Guillier’s vote number, and the FA will have a respectable 20 deputies and one senator in the next Congress.
Jose Antonio Kast (Independent), campaigning to the right of Piñera, did better than predicted, with 8%, while the center-left Christian Democrat Carolina Goic bombed with less than 5%. Her party’s Congressional candidate earned twice that number of votes, still reflecting party weakness.
The almost invisible vote levels of Navarro and Artés surely disappointed the candidates, and Marco Enríquez-Ominami’s poor showing just reinforced his downward political trajectory. Marco quickly threw his support behind Guillier; they say he needs a platform for his next performance.
The two candidates and their parties now are spending a few days figuring out how to approach the runoff election. They only have about a month to make their case. Piñera is being advised to tone down his arrogance and develop a message that can appeal to a broader range of voters while keeping his base voters on board. To lure enough additional voters to his side, this will require inclusion of serious attention to social issues like health, education, and pensions usually left to the private sector and free market forces in his past pronouncements.
Kast has already agreed to assist and has urged his supporters to vote for Piñera. Ideologically way to Piñera’s right, some of his supporters surely will migrate to Piñera, but not all of them. Their only realistic option in the runoff is to abstain. In addition, Piñera could be strengthened significantly by Manuel José Ossandón, who Piñera defeated in a primary election, joining his team. Ossandón is a street smart moderate right politician with strong following. He will pull Piñera to the center on issues like education and health. The coalition supporting Piñera is quite well organized, but they will need to do a lot of knocking on doors to get out the vote they need to add 14 points to his 36% in this first round.
A most interesting dynamic to watch over the next few days is the dance between Sanchez and Guillier. If these two candidates could simply combine their respective coalition’s voters in support of Guillier, he would have close to the 50% he needs. This possibility is what worries Pinera. Guillier has sold himself as the continuation of Bachelet’s outgoing government and defender of her reform program of the past four years. Sanchez has not been in line with Bachelet’s reform program. For her, and her coalition, it’s been too little, too slow and too moderate. She doesn’t seem to be very convinced Guillier is the right person to lead the left into the future. Especially now with her impressive election results, she is not simply throwing her lot in with Guillier.
You could argue that Guillier needs Sanchez more than she needs him. They would each bring almost the same number of voters to the table, but Guillier is the candidate in the runoff election, not Sanchez, and if he wins even with her voters’ support, he will be president, not she. She and her supporters are therefore weighing the pros and cons of keeping their powder dry (lukewarm support or abstain in the runoff). If they really believe Guillier would be a poor president, they don’t want to be attached at the hip to him, nor his programs. They seem to have a good future, they are young, and they are building. Four years is not long to wait. They can lay back, build their credentials and support through aggressive and successful legislative work in both the Chamber and Senate, and then sweep in with a big “We told you so” after Guillier, or Piñera even, has been president for four years.
In the meantime, she and her supporters would also be able to use “the street” to get attention and support for their issues, a tactic this generation of “progressive” political activists has used quite effectively. But that remains to be seen. It’s not an easy call, because they also really dislike Piñera and can’t afford to be seen as helping him get elected.
The more liberal wing of the Christian Democrat party (PDC) has snagged back the party leadership from the wounded Goic and they are rushing to join with Guillier in the hopes of being somehow involved with his government should he win, much as they were with Bachelet’s Nueva Mayoría. The PDC’s power is clearly in decline; they lost some icons in the parliamentary side of this election (two Walkers and a Zaldivar are out. God forbid!).
Stepping back from the immediate struggle of this second round voting, there are some factors that might help put everything into perspective. This election is the first to reflect significant reforms to the electoral rules of the game in Chile. The move from a bi-nominal to proportional voting system, application of gender parity for political party congressional candidates, redrawing of congressional districts and increased number of seats in both the Chamber and Senate, have resulted in a younger, more gender balanced, more diverse set of political actors. For the first time, a (two, in fact) member of congress will be sworn in who was born after the return to democracy in 1990. It is interesting that two of the strongest leaders of emerging political parties within the Frente Amplio coalition will still in the next election be too young to be President of the country. But it’s just a question of time.
Increased social and public media influence over political discourse is affecting Chile like other countries. While traditional political parties and institutions in Chile have lost credibility with the public, both Guillier and Sanchez earned their popularity as public media personalities. Now a big chunk of Chilean voters is willing to trust someone with this experience to lead the country. The traditional ruling elite families and “tribes” that crafted the compromises which coaxed post-authoritarian Chile through the transition to democracy are aging, losing elections, and reluctantly ceding control.
Shortly after the results of the first round of voting were announced last Sunday, Chileans heard of the death of General Fernando Matthei, the Chilean Air Force General who replaced Gustavo Leigh as Air Force Commander in Chief in 1978 and therefore a member of the Military Junta that was ruling Chile at the time. He was the last surviving member of that Junta. Matthei is recognized as being instrumental, from his position within the junta, in ensuring Chile’s return to democracy in 1990. That’s surely a discussion for another time, but along with the imminent marginalization from Chilean politics of a generation of traditional politicians, which appears to be happening, the question arises as to the importance of this moment, and where it might lead.
After almost three decades of a relatively coherent approach (call it “national project”) of alternating co-government based in compromises between the center left and the center right politicians, this election is highlighting important questions that suggest Chile may be moving to another stage, what some call a more mature approach to representational government. Will the new left reconcile with modern capitalism like so much of the rest of the developed world? Will the right expand its commitment to broad socioeconomic development, going beyond the necessary but not sufficient objectives of growth and productivity? Will the burgeoning immigration of job seekers overwhelm Chilean’s historically recognized generosity and openness? Will the changing balance of power between the executive and legislative branches lead to better governance or gridlock?
As Piñera and Guillier wrestle for the votes they need to be the next president of Chile, this observer will be trying to determine if the message from the right continues to project fear of change as their core motivator, and if the reform message from the left continues to be poisoned by resentment of the past. And will anyone of any political tendency have the courage and wisdom to propose a route to reconciliation and more inclusive development of the culturally rich and potentially productive Araucanía, racked by conflict and agony no one has done much to address for decades?
These are some of the questions we believe will define the next stage in Chile’s political adventure. Maybe this election will answer these questions. We shall see. Stay tuned.
* “Todo Cambia“; Mercedes Sosa song.
Posted on November 26, 2017, in Leesburg, Virginia.