Chilean Presidential Election 2017: A summary

On the 17th December, Chileans will vote in the second round of elections to determine the President of the Republic (for a four-year term), as well as 23 of the 43 of the senate to run (for an eight-year term) along with regional representatives for all fourteen regions of Chile. This presidential election also marks a clash between Chile’s centre right and left, socialist and conservative branches.

Whilst the USA and the UK are both democratic counties with a somewhat unmovable two-party system Chile has only recently become a republic of democracy following the fall of Pinochet dictatorship and government in 1990. Typically, most Chileans hold indifference or disdain for politics within their country as a corrupt monopoly. Many people tend to vote for a whole plethora of politicians making it typically unlikely for any one political party to achieve a majority. Therefore, all the presidential candidates are in political coalitions with other parties because individually they usually only gather 10-30% of the popular vote so coalitions are necessary to form a government.

How Socialism Differs in Chile:
Before the dictatorship of Pinochet (1974-1990) the last president of Chile was, as the BBC put it, “the first Marxist to become President of a Latin American country through open elections.” Allende adopted the typical policies of nationalization of industries and collectivization. Allende, whilst a controversial figure, was similar in his polarization of opinion to Pinochet. Allende committed suicide during an armed coup backed by the United States in September 1973 becoming a martyr figure for many on the left and creating much resentment for the United States and other imperialistic powers. Many still remember the United States as the entity that brought the violent dictatorship of Pinochet to fruition, living memory of Chile’s violent dictatorship has left a large socialist sentiment in Chile and socialism is far more popular here than in Europe or North America.

Privatization and decentralization are both huge political issues within Chile. In contrast to Allende’s Marxist policies the United States, amid an ideological battle of economics systems known as the Cold War, replaced Allende with Pinochet who enacted many capitalistic policies. Pinochet heavily privatized businesses and many industries within the Republic. There is currently no train line from the North of the country to the South and even the public buses suffer from a degrading lack of standards. This is the noticeable result of Pinochet’s privatization. This adds the motivation for more people to want a more social change within Chile, as the government is currently not responsible for any of these companies, besides the laxed policies that the companies abide by, and the industries responsible don’t want to eat into profits. This inherited cycle of degradation had led many to flock the socialist banner of Guillier and Sanchez in this current election.

The socialist movement in Chile is seen in this election with the two most popular candidates being Pinera and Guillier, who both appear within the centre of the political spectrum, however for this election they may as well be opposite ends. Pinera represents a somewhat more extreme capitalistic outlook, with similar (and more intense) proposals as Bachelet and Goic, whilst Guillier represents the popular support for socialism and change within the country.

The Presidential Candidates:

Overall there are eight candidates running for the position of President of the Republic. One of the main candidates is Sebastian Pinera. This will be Pinera’s third presidential race as he has already served one term as president, being the predecessor of Chile’s current president Michelle Bachelet, from 2010 to 2014, but also running in the 2005 election but being beaten out by Bachelet.

Pinera belongs to the National Renewal party, a liberal conservative party. The party itself is one of four in the conservative coalition called ‘Chile Vamos’ and won the party primary with 58% majority, becoming the official candidate. Pinera from the outset promotes capitalistic ideals. For example, Pinera considerd education a consumer good, which caused student protests for education to be under public ownership in 2011-2012. His proposals for this coming election include a focus on infrastructure (for example extending the Santiago metro system) and employment growth, “duplicating our capacity to grow and create jobs in the next 4 years.” Of most interest are Pinera’s social proposals, stating that, “one of the primary objectives of the social policy of the next government will be to support and strengthen Chilean families.” This means that Pinera would give attention to the more at risk in working-class families, such as children and seniors or people with disabilities, creating a more organised response to the needs of those most vulnerable within the Chilean social system.

Alejandro Guillier, senator for the Antofagasta region and the presidential candidate for the Social Democrat Radical Party and is seen as the closest thing to an adversary to Pinera’s center right policies. Guillier and Pinera are both the likeliest candidates for the next president and both poll high in popularity polls. Although Guillier himself commented on the unreliability of popularity polls, “Let’s not forget what happened in the United States, let’s not forget what happened in Colombia, let’s not forget what happened in England.” A likely outcome will be that neither Pinera or Guillier will gain a majority and a run-off election will be held 17th December to decide the presidency. According to Guillier’ website he promises; free and reduced transport costs for senior citizens; equal pay for men and women, an end to sexist activity within education and a National Plan against gender violence; reduction of working hours, a right to strike in the new constitution. Possibly one of his most controversial proposals was the idea of lending more autonomy to the regions and creating a more decentralized form of government, “Chile will not be a developed country unless we move towards decentralization.”

lowering work quotas of workers from 13% to 9%, while gradually raising the employers’ contribution from 5% to 9%.Beatriz Sanchez is the nominee and leader of Broad Front, a coalition of seven left-wing parties and political movements. Sanchez herself has worked as a political journalist for over twenty years, and is one of the few candidates who advocates for more feminist polices within the Chilean government. Sitting more left than Guillier, her five pillars, or her five proposals, which include pensions, state that Chile has insufficient social security with no gender equality or uniform treatment. Sanchez’ other pillars include, Decent Pensions and Work, including; updating the social security budget for a more modern and sustainable system; increased control of public spending and Health and education are also part of her manifesto emphasizing a better quality in higher public education, duplicating quotas within a period of eight years. Predictably her last pillar focuses on decentralisation, although offers no more information on specific aims on how to achieve this in her manifesto.

The last candidate I will mention is Carolina Goic, leader and presidential nominee for the Chilean Christian Democratic Party (PDC), as well as being the Senator for the Maganalles region. The party is part of a larger coalition called Nueva Mayoria, which Bachelet herself is a part of (although from a Socialist Party), leading many to assume and create similarities between the two. Whilst Goic does not highlight any proposals she largely is expected to continue the same path that Bachelet has been continuing these past four years. Although Goic herself is championing for decentralization with one of her proposals saying, “Santiago is not all of Chile”. Goic represents someone who would make no major alterations to the form of the government in Chile now.

Results of the First Round – November 19th:
Sebastian Pinera: 2,418,540 (36.64%)
Alejandro Guillier: 1,498,040 (22.70%)
Beatriz Sanchez: 1,338,037 (20.27%)
Carolina Goic: 387, 784 (5.88%)

Pinera holds a lot of support being the primary conservative candidate, whilst the split in leftist voters is evident by the little difference in percentage and votes between Guillier and Sanchez. A runoff election between Pinera and Guillier will now determine who will become president and start their presidential term on March 11th 2018. With only two candidates, and Guillier attracting many of Sanchez’s votes it will be an even closer round of voting than in the first round.

Results of the Second Round December 17th
Sebastian Pinera 3,793,832 (54.58%)
Alejandro Guillier 3, 157,750 (45.42%)

By a margin of 636,082 votes Pinera has been elected Michele Bachelet’s successor as President of the Republic of Chile, this will be Pinera’s second-term as President. In his first speech since the results were announced on the night of the 17th Pinera said to his supporters, “Lets make Chile into a developed country”. The important aspect however is whether any real change will come to Chile and if any is even necessary.

Pinera’s victory marks a trend within Southern Latin American Countries with the election of conservative right leaders in Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Policies to ensure tax breaks and less ‘red tape’ for companies (particularly mining companies) are sure to be a key policy under Pinera’s government.

Those who were under the Guillier banner argued that Chile’s infrastructure has been neglected for decades without any great improvements, whilst those who were under the Pinera and Goic banner might argue that a developing nation needs investors and the capital investment, progress takes time and that metropolitan areas are becoming more developed, such as Santiago, Iquique or San Pedro.

Pinera represents a more conservative pathway for Chile with a likely chance of enacting many of his proposals, whilst Guillier would have faced opposition from the traditional central conservative government. Guillier, with a liberal and leftist backdrop, would’ve held no easy victories if elected. These are still, however, speculations. However, those who voted for Guillier (nearly half of those who voted) shows a clear divide in Chilean political opinion, and whether Pinera can bridge this gap is something that will be seen over his 4 year term, starting March 11th.


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