Chile: Presidential Election Runoff Scheduled for January

On December 13, more than 8 million Chileans went to the polls for general elections. The clear winner of the day was Sebastián Piñera, the candidate for the center right party. He won the first electoral round with 44% of the votes. The vote on the center to left was split between Eduardo Frei (29.6%), independent candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami (20.1%) and Communist party candidate Jorge Arrate (6.2%). As expected, no candidate received the necessary 50% + 1 of the vote. A run-off election between the two candidates who received the largest number of votes will take place on January 17 and will determine the next Chilean president.

The deciding question for the runoff election is who will capture the votes from third-place finisher Enriquez-Ominami. Both Piñera and Frei have made speeches addressing those supporters. The fourth place candidate, Arrate, has announced that he has not decided who he will ask his supporters to back [es].

Frei is representing the Concertación coalition, which has won every election since Chile's return to democracy in 1990. However, the results from this recent election indicate that this run may end with the possible election of Piñera. Marta Lagos, director Latinobarómetro says [es] “We are electing a president from the right, even though the majority of voters are on the side of Concertación.”

Mario Alberto Muñoz Zepeda of Atina Chile [es] believes the right is “winning hearts” mainly because of the failures of the left. Much of this can be seen in the relative success of Enriquez-Ominami, which had attracted many dissatisfied Concertación voters. However, as Patricio Navia states [es]:

El mensaje es claro. Si la Concertación quiere mantenerse en el poder, necesita demostrar que ha escuchado ese mensaje y que tomará medidas para reencantar a esos electores inconformes.

The message is clear. If the Concertación (coalition) wants to remain in power, it needs to demonstrate that it has heard this message and that it will take measures to re-enchant those dissatisfied voters.

However, other bloggers have a message for Piñera and call on him to show his true colors and to dissociate himself from the radical right fringe in his party coalition. Cristóbal Bellolio writes from his blog at La Tercera [es]:

Piñera debería ser aun más explícito en esta convocatoria, sacrificando todos los elementos vinculados con la dictadura. … el empresario debería reafirmar el compromiso de su proyecto con el reconocimiento y respeto a la diversidad de opciones de vida. El eje “valórico” debería quedar finalmente instalado en el ala liberal de la derecha.

Piñera should be even more explicit in this call, sacrificing all of the elements linked to the dictatorship… the businessman should reaffirm the commitment to the project with the recognition and respect to the diversity of opinions of life. The “valoric” axis should remain installed in the liberal wing of the right.

A disillusioned blogger, Barbara Werner summarizes that everything will be business as usual [es] regardless of which candidate emerges as the winner:

Chao reforma a la constitución, nacionalización del agua (hoy en manos extranjeras), nacionalización del cobre y recursos naturales.
Ojala que estos señores no privaticen el AIRE y nos cobren cargo fijo por respirar ( y curiosamente la licitación se la ganen los españoles) .

Goodbye, Constitutional reform, nationalization of water (now in foreign hands), nationalization of copper and natural resources. Hopefully these gentlemen will not privatize the AIRE and not charge us for breathing (and curiously the Spanish wins the bidding).
Presidential candidate Jorge Arrate following his vote. Photo taken by Diego Martin™ and used under a Creative Commons license.

Presidential candidate Jorge Arrate following his vote. Photo taken by Diego Martin™ and used under a Creative Commons license.

Television news and bloggers spoke of the high voter turnout and long lines for the polls. Despite this, only one in five young people, those less than 30 years old, went to the polls. By contrast, turnout among those 60 years or older was between 70-90% [es]. Longstanding electoral laws threaten Chileans with a fine for failure to vote once they register. Another controversial voting law is the one that prohibits Chileans who have lived abroad from voting until they have returned to Chile for five years. Groups like the blog Centros Chilenos en el Exterior [es] (Chilean Centers Abroad) have been raising awareness to this issue.

Finally, Paloma Baytelman documented her vote [es] in this video and later worked as a voluntary electoral observer in an area of the capital Santiago with many senior citizen voters.

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