On Sunday, Chile went to the polls for the first round of their presidential election. Voters also had to elect all 155 lower house deputies and half of Chile’s senators. The former billionaire, center-right president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera (2010-214), despite a clear lead in public opinion polls, was forced into a second round run-off due to a late surge by candidates on the left.
Piñera, with his right-leaning Chile Vamos coalition, won 36.4 per cent of the vote, while the left-leaning representative of the incumbent coalition, Alejandro Guillier, came second with 22.7 per cent and Beatriz Sánchez Muñoz, also on the left, came third with 20.3 per cent of the vote. The right wing candidate of the Unión Demócrata Independiente, José Antonio Kast, came fourth with 7.9 per cent.
Guillier a former news anchor, is the candidate of the centre-left Nueva Mayoría governing coalition led by current incumbent Michelle Bachelet and during the election campaign, he pledged to continue the reform agenda of the Bachelet administration. Sánchez, also a former journalist, represented the left wing Frente Amplio coalition, a party that emerged from the Chilean student movement of 2011. Sánchez ran on a platform that emphasized redistribution and higher taxes for the wealthy. This was the first time that the Frente Amplio has competed in a presidential election.
Piñera’s victory reflects divisions among the left in Chile. The Partido Demócrata Cristiano decided to leave the governing leftist coalition and contest the election on their own for the first time. Their candidate, Carolina Goic, received 5.8 per cent of the vote. It is also a product of the falling popularity of the current incumbent, Michelle Bachelet. Her popularity has plummeted a long way from the eighty plus rating that she enjoyed towards the end of her first term in office. Her administration has been beset by a number of corruption scandals, one of which involved one of Chile’s largest corporate entities, Penta Group, and the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). More significantly however, one of the scandals involved the President’s own son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos was accused of using his political influence to arrange a US$10 million bank loan for his wife’s firm, Caval, which then used the funds to purchase land in central Chile that was promptly resold for a profit. The national banking regulator cleared Dávalos of any wrongdoing, but Congress launched an investigative committee to explore the allegations.
The emergence of the Frente Amplio, an anti-establishment coalition, was partly a response to this corruption crisis.
The low turnout at 46.7 per cent probably also helped Piñera. A run-off is now scheduled for December 17. The big question of course will be whether the supporters of Sánchez will weigh in behind the incumbent candidate, Guillier. Sánchez has been highly critical of Piñera in the past. A right-leaning victory in Chile would continue the recent swing to the right in other South American countries, including, Brazil, Peru and Argentina.