Chileans on Sunday gave former President Sebastián Piñera a new term in office, rejecting his opponent’s call to build on the social and economic changes set in motion by the incumbent, Michelle Bachelet. Mr. Piñera’s victory marks the latest shift to the right in a region that until recently was largely governed by leftist leaders who rose to power promising to build more egalitarian societies. Mr. Piñera vowed on Sunday night to govern for all Chileans. “Chile needs dialogue and collaboration more than confrontation,” he said after a cordial televised meeting with his opponent, Alejandro Guillier.
Articles about voting issues in the Republic of Chile.
Chileans vote in an uncertain runoff presidential election on Sunday that will determine if the world’s top copper producer stays on its center-left course or joins a tide of Latin American nations turning to the right in recent years. Billionaire former President Sebastian Pinera, 68, a conservative who was considered the front-runner but earned fewer votes than expected in last month’s first round, faces center-left journalist and senator Alejandro Guillier, 64. Both candidates would keep in place Chile’s longstanding free-market economic model, but Pinera has promised lower taxes to turbocharge growth while Guillier wants the government to press on with outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s overhaul of education, taxes and labor.
On Sunday, for the seventh time since Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship ended, Chileans went to the polls to elect a president and National Congress. Only 46 percent of those eligible to vote actually did so, one of the lowest turnouts in the country’s history. In the presidential race, no candidate won a full majority, which means there will be a runoff, scheduled for Dec. 17. Although most opinion polls had shown right-wing billionaire and former president Sebastián Piñera with a clear lead of between 42 and 47 percent, the latest results show he received only 36.6 percent of the ballots. The next-place candidate, Sen. Alejandro Guillier, the center-left candidate, received just under 23 percent. Perhaps more significant than the presidential first round was the transformation of Congress. This was the first time Chile has gone to the polls since major electoral reforms. Voters weighed in on all the members of the legislature’s lower house, and almost half the Senate. What were the results?
Billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera held a big lead late Sunday in returns from Chile’s presidential election, buoyed by support from Chileans who hope the former president can resuscitate a flagging economy, though he didn’t get enough votes to avoid a runoff. With just under 92 percent of ballots counted, Pinera had nearly 37 percent of the vote, against almost 23 percent for Sen. Alejandro Guillier, an independent center-left candidate, and 20 percent for Beatriz Sanchez, who ran for the leftist Broad Front coalition. Five other candidates shared the remainder.
The frontrunner for Chile’s presidency, billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, faces an array of left-wing parties in this year’s elections but he can expect help from one quarter – low turnout. Recent opinion polls give Pinera, a conservative former president, a commanding lead over his seven mostly left-of-center rivals for the Nov. 19 first round but predict he is unlikely to take the more than 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off. While a unified left might muster the votes to defeat Pinera in the second round, weak turnout fed by disenchantment with politics and interparty bickering would pave the way for a Pinera win.
Augusto Pinochet left the scene as Chile’s dictator 25 years ago, but the electoral system he bequeathed has governed politics ever since. Under the country’s unique “binominal” system, each parliamentary constituency has two seats; the winning candidate takes one and in most cases the runner-up takes the other. This has reserved nearly all the seats in parliament for two big coalitions, the centre-left New Majority (to which the president, Michelle Bachelet, belongs) and the centre-right Alliance. The system has brought Chile stability at the expense of diversity. It kept small parties out of parliament unless they joined one of the two big coalitions, and ruled out landslide victories by either side. Moreover, it has tended to over-represent the Alliance at the expense of New Majority. Rural areas, which had supported Pinochet, were given more weight than their populations warranted.
Chile looks set to make major changes to its electoral system so it will better represent voters’ wishes and ensure more women participate in politics, an issue close to the heart of center-left President Michelle Bachelet. After an all-night debate, the Senate on Wednesday morning gave the green light to Bachelet’s electoral reform bill, with the support of two opposition senators. The bill is expected to easily pass in the lower house and then be signed into law. The vote overturns a byzantine electoral system introduced by dictator Augusto Pinochet before he departed from power that has effectively excluded parties that do no belong to one of two leading coalitions and prevented either coalition from winning a significant majority in Congress. Pinochet, who ruled the South American country from 1973-1990, intended to ensure conservative parties retained a strong voice after the return to democracy.
President Michelle Bachelet is determined to make Chile’s democracy more representative, and for the first time in a quarter century, there may be just enough votes in Congress to achieve it. Bachelet wants to end an electoral system that has squeezed out independent candidates and guaranteed an outsized presence in Congress for the center-right coalition ever since the end of the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990. The system distorts the vote by giving half the seats in each district to the trailing coalition as long as it gets at least a third of the votes. In practice, that has meant many elections are decided behind closed doors, with the center-left and center-right blocs hand-picking candidates to ensure neither side will get its way in Congress. Pinochet also did away with proportional districts, which denied equal representation for people living in Chile’s biggest cities. “Let’s call things what they are: The binomial system is a thorn pounded into the center of our democracy. It’s a system that owes its life to the dictatorship and that has perpetuated itself through exclusion,” Bachelet said Wednesday as she signed the proposal, which now will be debated in Congress.
Chile has reformed its constitution to give voting rights to citizens living outside the country. The measure was more than 20 years in the making, and is seen as a major victory for the many Chileans who left the country during its long dictatorship. Tuesday’s Senate approval came after a deal between the center-left ruling coalition and right-wing politicians. The vote was 28-5 in favor with three abstentions. The House of Deputies passed the measure last week.
Michelle Bachelet’s landslide victory was the largest in 80 years and yet, at the same time was the lowest voter turnout since the nation of Chile returned to democracy. According to some political pundits, this suggests that Bachelet will not get a mandate to push for any type of change when she begins her second term in 2014. A moderate advocate of socialist government, Bachelet ended her first term in 2010 with an approval rating of 84 percent in spite of the fact that she was unwilling to enact any type of major change. However, with this victory, political leftists in Chile are expected to hold Bachelet accountable to make good on her promises. Some of these include improving health care, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, and pushing a $15 billion program for the purposes of educational overhaul. Economically, Chile is the pride of Latin America. It is the top exporter of chrome worldwide and boasts a rapidly growing economy, a stable democracy and low unemployment rates. However, in the country itself, there has been much unrest as many have believed that there should be more of the nations wealth used for reform of the educational system and income disparity.