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Chile: it’s the left which made the gains

Chile's first round of presidential elections confounded the pollsters, and registered gains for the left


This article was published by Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica (CELAG). It was translated for LAB by Mike Gatehouse. You can read the original, in Spanish here. 20 November 2017: This Sunday’s [presidential] elections delivered many surprises. One scarcely knows where to begin. Perhaps with what seems best to sum up the sensations left by the results: the left has edged forwards, while the right has been contained.
The constituent parties of the Frente Amplio. Image: Wikipedia
Not one of the opinion polls predicted it, yet the Frente Amplio (FA), led by Beatriz Sánchez, won 20.7 per cent of the vote [the Frente Amplio consists of the Humanist, Liberal, Democratic Revolution, Power, Green Ecologist and Equality Parties]. None of the polls had given them more than 10%. Even the most highly regarded pollster, the Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP), which is treated as an oracle by most of the media and politicians, predicted a mere 9 per cent for them. They doubled that. And that’s not all. The Frente Amplio went from having 3 deputies in Congress to 20. In other words, they achieved congressional representation which will allow them to exert influence on government, whatever government emerges. As we know, politics is strength, not just ideology and discourse. In her final speech on election day, Beatriz Sánchez said it all: “Tomorrow I want to see an explanation from the pollsters and the media. If they had told the truth, perhaps today it would be us going forward to the second round. [in Chile’s presidential elections, when no candidate obtains a majority of the votes, the two leading candidates face a run-off]. As it was, Sánchez came very close.
Constituent parties of Nueva Mayoría, the coalition backing Alejandro Guillier, successor to the outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet. Image: Wikipedia
Alejandro Guillier, the ‘official’ candidate [i.e. candidate for Michelle Bachelet’s Nueva Mayoría coalition which includes the Socialist Party, Communist Party and Party for Democracy, among others] obtained only an additional 1.3 per cent of the vote and thus squeaked through to the second round.
The Chile Vamos coalition of right-wing parties backing Sebastián Piñera. Image: Wikipedia
The future remains uncertain. Sebastián Piñera [candidate of the right-wing Chile Vamos coalition] had expected a walk-over and some forecasts even predicted that he would win [an absolute majority] in the first round. Yet he failed to reach even 40 per cent. His 36.5 per cent total leaves him with no certainty for the second round, which will be held on 17 December. All eyes are fixed on the Frente Amplio and on Beatriz Sánchez. Discussion in the coming days will focus on the Frente and the decision they must now take on whether to give their support to Guillier in December. Beatriz in her speech spoke of a Constituent Assembly, an end to the privatisation of water, and the private pension system. These at the very least will be some of the points to be negotiated with Guillier. What is clear so far is that this election marked a shift to the left and not, as had been universally predicted, to the right. It is interesting that this has happened in Chile, the most neo-liberal country on the continent, and in the midst of a wave of reactionary reversions in Latin America. Now once more there is an opening up to elections involving three main forces, thus breaking out of the neo-liberal strait-jacket of bi-coalitionism. The other big surprise was the demolition of the Christian Democrats. They opted to run on their own in the first round and their candidate, senator Carolina Goic, came fifth with 5.8 per cent. The openly Pinochetista José Antonio Kast beat her with 7.9 per cent. Marco Enríquez Ominami [candidate of the Progressive Party, formed from centre-left elements of the former Concertación coalition] was almost level with her on 5.7 per cent. This is a highly significant result. The political centre was the natural ground where Christian Democracy had exercised hegemony since 1960. Yet today this space is being occupied by other actors, more secular and progressive in their cultural values. The next month will be intense. Anything might happen, nothing is pre-ordained just as occurred with the recent elections. If Piñera wins the second round, it remains to be seen who will lead the opposition to his government: the left with the Frente Amplio or the progressive neo-liberals with Guillier. If, on the other hand, Guillier succeeds in the second round, it will only be because the Frente Amplio gave him their support and, in that event, in exchange for what they did so.

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