History will remember some of the installed reforms in Chile as significant changes, yet Michele Bachelet will leave her second term in government with only a 25% public approval. Español
Followers of Sebastián Piñera await his arrival in Osorno, Chile on November 9, 2017. The presidential candidate and former president of Chile Sebastián Piñera met with his followers in the city of Osorno only a few days before the elections. (Photo by Fernando Lavoz/NurPhoto/Sipa USA). All rights reserved.
Presidential elections will be held this Sunday, November 19, in Chile. All the polls agree that former President Sebastián Piñera is most likely the candidate to earn the majority of the votes, although not enough to win in the first round. Yet the question that intrigues the experts today is not so much who the runner-up will be, or the percentages of participation, but how many people will actually vote. In 2012, Chile passed a bill changing the vote from compulsory to voluntary, and it has since become the Latin American country with the lowest electoral participation. The picture becomes liquid when you do not know what the likely turn up of voters will be.
The process leading to Piñera’s probable return to the presidency has some explanations that are worth remembering. During Michele Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010) the parties in her coalition had significant clout, the program of initiatives continued to refine the political model of agreements, implemented with the return to democracy. And finally, it had substantial citizen support. But the coalition failed to define a clear electoral strategy, chose a bad candidate, and so Sebastián Piñera won. Bachelet left La Moneda’s presidential palace with more than 80% public approval, knowing that she was very likely to be good contender to take the elections four years later.
Once the (Piñera's) administration was over, and with the ghost of Bachelet haunting over the following electoral process, the right-wing coalition underwent a generalized crisis process
Piñera’s government (2010-2014) was marked by problems with the parties in his coalition and the impetus of being “the government of the best" – mainly composed by former managers of private companies who knew little or nothing about the State. In a second stage, important political actors joined the government, which gave the coalition some structural order, although the parties recognized both in public and in private that the President often did not communicate with them. Piñera had to manage the consequences of the biggest earthquake in decades, its reconstruction, the student demands, and the development of a reform agenda coming form the left. During his term, the economic and social indicators, in general, improved. Once the administration was over, and with the ghost of Bachelet haunting over the following electoral process, the right-wing coalition underwent a generalized crisis process, which led directly to its electoral defeat.
Certainly, Bachelet returned to the government as an indisputable and basically incombustible candidate. This time, she took advantage of her political strength to create a team composed by people of her personal entourage. She also distanced herself from the parties and the party leadership, and defined a program of important social reforms (free university education, abortion on three grounds, reform tax, labor reform, constitutional reform). However, shortly after assuming the presidency, the corruption scandals linked to her son and daughter-in-law broke out, which combined with the apparent lack of coordination between the economic and the political teams in her government, the daily struggle with problems that got in the way of implementing the reformist agenda, and doubts among the parties, weakened the President, her government, and her center-left coalition. Undoubtedly, history will remember some of the installed reforms in Chile as substantial changes, but this time, Michele Bachelet will leave the government with just a 25% public approval and a center-left coalition destroyed from the inside.
Thus the electoral process of 2017 has 2 candidates, both considered center-left, and who are members of the coalition of the outgoing government. The Christian Democracy sought its own way with Carolina Goic and surely that will cost the party some seats in the Legislative on Sunday, but it will open up the discussion for a clearer programmatic future. The candidate representing the other party in the government coalition, current senator Alejandro Guillier, could very likely be the one going to the second round in December 2017.
(Guillier) will need to reinvent himself, or his chances of winning in the second round are remote
Guillier, an independent candidate supported by one of the smaller parties of the coalition, has been erratic in some decisions, has been publicly discreet, and was able to charm the popular center-left electorate, which means those voters may refrain from participating in the elections this Sunday. Therefore, he will need to reinvent himself, or his chances of winning in the second round are remote.
Piñera, meanwhile, understood that governing includes ordering the party coalition, reducing public and private confrontations, consolidating an ambition of power and government, not just management, and putting together a government agenda based on ideology rather than administrative functionality. A candidate from a harder right wing has emerged, but apparently he will not consolidate a relevant percentage of votes.
The election this Sunday is key to the political development of one of the countries considered most institutional and orderly in the region. Possibly, the greatest challenges ahead relate to citizen disaffection of political participation, the urgent need for a change in the leadership of traditional parties, and the need for consolidation of new serious references and true alternative proposals.