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Chile: Leading Candidates for Presidential Elections

On the road to Chile's presidential election, four candidates lead the first round of voting on December 13: the candidate of Alliance for Change (Coalición por el Cambio) Sebastián Piñera, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei as the candidate of the ruling party coalition Concertación, independent candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami, and from the left wing Juntos Podemos Más party, Jorge Arrate.

Photo of elections in Chile in 2005 by Alastair Rae. Used with permission following a Creative Commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/merula/153178094/

Photo of elections in Chile in 2005 by Alastair Rae. Used with permission following a Creative Commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/merula/153178094/

Current president Michelle Bachelet was the first woman to be elected president of Chile in 2006. She is limited by the constitution to one term in office. Candidate Eduardo Frei seeks another term as president after serving from 1994 to 2000. Son of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970) whose assassination has been recently a matter of discussion [es], Frei is supported by the currently governing coalition, which has dominated Chilean politics since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990.

To blogger Juan Pablo Opazo [es], it is Frei’s former experience in government what makes him question if the candidate is up for the country’s actual needs:

en su gobierno no se avanzo en ninguno de los temas de actualidad que hoy en día quiere captar para ganar más votos. Llamese unión civil homosexual, entrega y distribución de la pastilla del día despues, divorcio, aborto terapeutico, entre otras que jamás llevara a cabo ni plantearía de no ser por su bajo apoyo a una semana de las elecciones.

in his governement there were no progress in none of the subjects that today are required to gain more votes. Call it homosexual civil union, distribution of the-day-after pill, therapeutic abortion, among other points that he will not consider or support if his popularity were not as low almost a week away for the elections.

Even though president Bachelet embraces his nomination, the 67-year old Frei remains unpopular with Chileans, generally attributed to the strong disenchantment among many citizens with the Concertación and their neoliberal course. This raises chances for Frei's contenders, mainly Sebastián Piñera. The candidate from the right wing combines the forces of the party for National Renewal (Renovación Nacional, RN) as well as the Independent Democrat Union (Unión Demócrata Independiente, UDI), where many of Pinochet's followers found home. It is Piñera’s second attempt to win the presidency: In 2005, he lost to Bachelet in the runoff elections.

Piñera is one of the richest men in Chile: Recently Forbes magazine estimated his fortune to one billion USD. He was involved in a scandal involving the Chilean LAN airline, in which he was fined $700,000 USD for buying shares of the company while in possession of privileged information. One way or another, his diverse business affairs are ground for criticism, as Daniel Mansuy points out in his blog Cuadernos de la quincena [es]:

El problema de Piñera es consigo mismo: mientras no sea capaz de explicarnos quién es, es difícil que inspire confianza. Para decirlo en otros términos: he visto a Sebastián Piñera con la camiseta de la UC (cuando iba a San Carlos), con la de Wanderers (cuando intentó ser senador por Valparaíso) y con la de Colo Colo (desde que es accionista): ¿cuál es el verdadero Sebastián Piñera?, ¿a quién hay que creerle? A veces da la sensación que ni él mismo lo sabe muy bien.

The problema with Piñera is with himself: as long as he is not able to explain us who he is, it will be difficult to trust him. In other words: I’ve seen Sebastián Piñera wearing a T-shirt of UC [Universidad Católica de Chile] (when he went to San Carlos), with the one of Wanderers (when he tried to be senator for Valparaíso) and with the one of Colo Colo (since he is a shareholder): which one is the real Sebastián Piñera?, which one we should believe in? Sometimes it seems that he does not know either.
Photo by magoexperto. Used following a Creative Commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magoexperto/2975945703/

Photo by magoexperto. Used following a Creative Commons license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magoexperto/2975945703/

Most of the topics of debate for the candidates appeal to moral sentiments: same-sex marriage, abortion (which is illegal in Chile, even in case of rape or danger to the woman’s health), emergency contraception, and the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic use. In this field, the one with the lead is 36 year-old candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami (known as MEO among Chileans), who publicly left the Concertación this year and is now running independently.

MEO's advantage is his youth: son of an important leftist leader, he is far more comfortable talking about gay rights than any of the other elderly candidates. Like Piñera owner of the television station Chilevision, MEO is a media-savvy candidate who has worked as a documentary filmmaker and producer. Although the Chilean electoral system traditionally favors the two-party stability or party coalitions, the independent candidate might be a serious contender in the elections.

In contrast to fenómeno MEO (“phenomenon”, as he is popularly known), Jorge Arrate, candidate of the extraparlamentary left, hardly stands a chance to win. He gained some attention in both television and Internet debates, but despite of his good speeches, even followers like blogger Anai Le acknowledge the difficult situation [es]:

Ah, me olvidaba, Arrate no tiene ni una sola probabilidad de ganar.
Lo que a mi ojos le da una cosa como romántica; una cosa como de gladiador que da la pelea a sabiendas de que va a morir. Pero de pie.

Ah, I forgot, Arrate does not have any chances to win.
To my eyes, that gives him a romantic feeling; something like a gladiator that battles even though he knows he is going down. But goes down fighting.

Blogger Alejandro Lavquén rounds up succinctly [es] other candidates less likely to make it through the first part of the elections:

Pamela Jiles viene del mundo de la política comprometida y seria, pero sus detractores la relacionan con la farándula debido a sus últimos trabajos en televisión. Aún así, sería la alternativa confiable de los independientes. En el caso de Eduardo Artés se trata de un dirigente de larga trayectoria cuya doctrina es sólida. Héctor Vega Tapia es un desconocido públicamente comparado con los otros candidatos, pero por empeño no se queda y el nombre de su movimiento suena por lo menos significativo.

Pamela Jiles comes from the world of serious and commited politics, but her detractors connect her with the entertainment industry because of her late work on television. Still, she would be the reliable alternative for the independents. In the case of Eduardo Artés, we deal with a leader of long career whose doctrine is solid. Héctor Vega Tapia is an unknown person publicly compared to the other candidates, his efforts would have been enough to make him stay, and the name of the campaign he leads sounds at the least meaningful.

Earlier this year, government proposed reforms of Chile's electoral laws [es], created under Pinochet’s regime, to reverse the actual system where electoral registration is voluntary, but once completed, voting is obligatory. Newspaper La Nación currently reports 200,000 new registrants [es] to the electoral roll.

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