Sebastian Piñera has been elected as Chile’s next president. For the first time since democracy returned in 1989 the Right has finally managed to win a majority share in a vote for the executive. Alongside the expected internal criticism within the centre-left Concertación coalition and demands for the heads of the Christian Democrat and Socialist parties to resign, questions will be asked about the ability of the centre-right Alianza coalition parties to work together in Congress with an ideologically similar president.
Piñera and the Right have been getting closer to electoral victory has been some time coming. Following first round defeats in 1989 and 1993, the Right was able to compete in head-to-head elections with the Concertación in second round run-offs in 2000, 2006 and 2010 (although this was also due to the challenge mounted by the extra-parliamentary left that was able to take votes off the Concertación in the first round as well).
But what already seems to be overlooked in the Chilean media is the narrow nature of Piñera’s victory, with abstentions and electoral registration having possibly played a part. Since 1989 both figures have been in decline, with yesterday’s poll the lowest yet with around 87% of voters voting and 67.5% of the voting age population registered respectively. In 1989 the turnout was 94.5% and fell to 91.3% in 1993; 88.5% of the electorate was registered in that year as well.
The fall in voting turnout and registered voters reflects growing public disillusion with the Concertación-dominated government of the past two decades. The coalition will therefore no doubt spend the next few months reviewing why that is and how they might re-engage with the public. The education and Transsantiago protests and demonstrations during the last presidency demonstrated the extent to which it was disconnected.
But while they do that they might also spare a thought for the last time that Chilean politics took such an electoral re-direction – then to the Left. Following the highly turbulent 1960s and deep antipathy between the Left, Centre and Right, Salvador Allende’s election as president in 1970 was achieved with a similarly low turnout of 83.7%. In the years that followed until the 1973 coup, opponents claimed that Allende did not have a sufficient mandate and failed to represent the population sufficiently.
One can only wonder whether Piñera will be given the same yardstick. On one hand, while he doesn’t have a majority in Congress, power is skewed towards the executive. On the other hand, Piñera’s public support is volatile; voters weren’t pro-Piñera but rather pro-change as the 20.1% share of the vote won by ex-Socialist deputy, Marco-Enríquez Ominami demonstrated in last month’s first round. Moreover there are a number of veto players who may play an obstructive role outside of the political system, including the trade unions.
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