Sunday, December 13

Election season in the Andes

Last Sunday, I wrote about the Bolivian elections and the shoe-in second term of Evo Morales. This Sunday, we move to the south for more political decisions. 

Today, Chileans will decide between Sebastian Piñera, a center-right billionaire (that's in U.S. greenbacks, my friend) businessman, and Eduardo Frei, a former president who represents the leftist coalition party, Concertación, of Michelle Bachelet. 

The polls say today Piñera will take the presidency, but 16% of those polled are undecided, a percentage that could tip of the scales for Frei. 

Half of Chileans are registered to vote (8 out of 16.6 million), the same as in the United States. But what's interesting, as this New York Times article on young Chilean voters points out, is that once you sign up, you have to vote or face a large fine.

During the 70s and 80s, dictator Augusto Pinochet rewrote the Constitution and many laws in Chile. While in 1988, the country returned to democracy, Pinochet's legal legacy, including voting regulations an his Constitution, remains largely intact. 

Pinochet also smartly reworked the Congressional system, gerrymandering many districts to ensure right representation. All of the diputados in Chile's "House" will be up for reelection today, as well as about half of its Senate.

It doesn't look like any of the candidates will be making any dramatic economic reforms, which is good news because Chile's stable economy has been the envy of Latin American for a few decades. However, should Piñera win, he would be the first rightist candidate to be elected post-Pinochet--a curious change after leftist Bachelet was the most popular president in Chilean history.

What might explain the fact that Bachelet's popularity doesn't seem to be helping Frei, her party's candidate, is the emergence of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a leftist candidate representing an off-shoot of the Concertacíon. The Wall Street Journal reported that, as of October, he was running neck and neck with Frei. 

Enríquez-Ominami's numbers, from what I can see, have gone down, but his popularity represents a challenge for the leftist coalition party that has represented the left and successfully won the presidency for two decades.

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