Chileans went to the polls on November 21st. I mean, less than half of Chilean voters, but that’s something we’ll look at later. The fact is that the Chilean election is certainly the most important election of the year in Latin America, and one of the most important in the world. And your first round ended with a lot of open questions, and we’ll see them all around here.
Before, the results, of course, starting with the presidential race. First place went to Pinochetista José Antonio Kast, from the Republican Party, part of the Christian Social Front, with 27.9% of the votes. In second place was the socialist Gabriel Boric, from Convergência Social, part of the coalition Apruebo Dignity, with 25.8% of the votes. Both will compete in the second round, on December 19th.
In third place, Franco Parisi, from the populist on the right Party of the People, with 12.8%, followed by center-right candidate Sebastián Sichel, of the coalition Chile We Can More, of current president Sebastián Piñera, with 12.7%. In fifth, center-left candidate Yasna Provoste, with 11.6%, followed by Marco Enríquez-Ominami, from the also left-wing Progressive Party, with 7.6%. Eduardo Artés, from the radical left União Patriotica, closes the list with 1.4% of the votes.
Some comments. The first one is the obvious and repeated around: it will be a second round of poles. Kast is a far-right Pinochetist who campaigned in 1988 for the continuation of the dictatorship, and today he denies that Pinochet’s dictatorship was a dictatorship. It also repeats the myth that the dictatorship would be responsible for Chilean development, a myth already debated, with numbers, here in our space.
On the other side is a candidate from the radical left, much further to the left than the former Chilean Concertación. O Apruebo Dignity emerged precisely from dissent to the left within the New Mayoría, the political successor to the Concertation. Some political commentators compare the Chilean election to the Brazilian scenario, which, in the column’s view, is a mistake. The Brazilian analogy with Boric is not Lula, it would be Guilherme Boulos.
This election of poles will cause next month’s campaign to be marked by a dubious tone. Both candidates will seek to signal to the center, to attract new voters, whether from other candidates, undecided or absent. At the same time, both candidates will also maintain a more fiery element in their speech, to exploit the other’s rejection and maintain their grassroots commitment.
Kast, for example, in his speech after his passage to the second round was enshrined, both praised the defeated and declared himself committed to social issues, as well as posing as a bastion of “democracy against communism”. With one hand he waved to voters in Parisi and Sichel, with the other he sought to classify his opponent as a threat and exploit rejection.
This is not a value judgment, it is a policy statement. Boric will wave towards the business community, claiming that he will not interfere in the market, and that his opponent is a Pinochetista who represents a social bankruptcy. Polls show that 52% of people would not vote at all for Kast, 56% would not vote at all for Boric, with an intersection of about 25% of voters not voting for either.
This rejection was not just in the polls. In Chile, voting is not mandatory. The candidate needs to win the voter’s trust to make him leave the house. And only 47.3% of voters turned out, a similar number to the 2017 election. In that same year, 331,000 more people turned out in the second round. The current difference in votes between Kast and Boric in sheer numbers? 146,313 thousand.
room for growth
The point is that, in an election where half the electorate has not expressed itself, it becomes somewhat unpredictable. Kast could win by a wide margin, Boric could turn the tables, it’s impossible to make a prediction today. There are millions of Chileans who can leave their homes and change the balance, in an election possibly decided by rejection. You don’t vote for someone, you vote to prevent someone else from winning.
This also makes it difficult to do a mere sum of candidates in the first round. For example, Sebastián Sichel, of Piñera’s centre-right, said he does not want “the far left in power” and indicated support for Kast in the second round. Yasna Provoste’s coalition said everyone must vote for Boric “for democracy”. What will be the real power of “vote transfer” for defeated candidates?
In addition, third-placed Franco Parisi, although he is on the right, had an inflated vote as a protest vote, or a “hazing” vote. He ran his entire campaign from the US, in “family defense,” one of his slogans. Not set foot in Chile. The ironic reason is that he could be arrested for not paying child support, and the picturesque situation caused many to vote for him.
Finally, an aspect that can influence the second round campaign is the fact that Chile is going through a Constituent Assembly. The list and statements of candidates in relation to the constituent process can impact the vote, as well as the Constituent Assembly’s own procedures. This point is especially sensitive for Kast, who campaigned against the Constituent Assembly, defending the charter that was granted by the Pinochet dictatorship.
In a way, even the Constituent process itself helps to explain the phenomenon that was the vote for Kast in this election. In 2017 he got 7.9% of the votes, less than a third of the current proportion. The protests in the country, conflicts with Mapuche communities in the south and the establishment of a Constituent Assembly were seen as victories for the left, contributing to a greater polarization of the right in the country.
Chamber with left, Senate with right
In addition to the presidential vote, Chileans also voted for the 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and for 27 of the 50 seats in the Senate. In the Chamber, we will have an almost equal division. The largest caucus will be the center-right coalition Chile We Can More, Piñera and Sichel, with 53 seats. Afterwards, the New Social Pact, from Provoste, and the Apruebo Dignity, by Boric, each with 37 seats.
Another five chairs moved to the left, with the Dignity Now taking three and the greens taking two, and another 22 seats to the right. Kast’s Christian Social Front elected 15 deputies, the fourth-largest coalition in the House. In total, the left will have 79 seats, the right will have 75, plus an independent candidate, Carlos Bianchi Chelech, from Punta Arenas, closes the account of 155 deputies.
The bill for the Senate is more complex and, modestly, it is something little explained in the Brazilian international media. Until 2015, the Chilean upper chamber had 38 seats. A renovation expanded the house to 50 in two stages. First, it expanded to 43 in 2017 and now to 50 senators. There were 27 chairs at stake. Twenty of them already occupied, plus seven seats that will be “inaugurated” in this legislature.
Of the 20 seats occupied, 11 were on the left, seven on the right and one independent. The results of last weekend’s election show that, of the 27 seats in dispute, the right won 13, the left 12, and two other independent senators, Karim Bianchi, from the Magallanes region, and Fabiola Campillai, from the metropolitan region of Santiago.
Of the senators elected, specifically, four are from the Boric coalition and one is from the Kast coalition. Still, in general terms, it was an expressive turn to the right in the Chilean Senate, practically doubling its previous bench and winning in most of the seats in the expansion of the House. The design of the next Senate will be 25 seats on the right, 22 on the left and three independent.
These accounts mean two things. First, any winner will have to negotiate with the other coalitions in their ideological spectrum in order to be able to govern. Second, even so, no candidate will have, at least ideologically speaking, a majority in both houses. Kast will have before him a Chamber with a majority of the left, while Boric will have to deal with a Senate with a majority of the right.
A disputed election, high rejections, a divided Congress, a functioning Constituent Assembly and the possibility of winning over the absent half of the electorate. On the one hand, it seems like a tense and bitter scenario, a nightmare for a country. On the other hand, if there is no interference in this process, it is part of the democratic maturation of a country that continues, and will continue, being a historic example for the region. It would not be fair to ask for a homogeneous community. Kast and Boric, in some way, represent parts of Chilean society. It remains to be seen who will be the winner.
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