New anti-systemic left biggest winner in Chile’s national elections

November 24, 2017
Frent Amplio candidate Beatriz Sanchez speaks at a campaign rally in October.

Since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990 after the fall of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, the South American nation has maintained a largely stable and predictable political system. However, the stability of this post-Pinochet political set up has seemingly come to an end.

A clear expression of this was the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections held on November 19.

While frontrunner Sebastian Pinera, a former president, billionaire and candidate for the centre-right coalition Vamos Chile (Go Chile, VC) came first, he only managed to win 37% of the vote, falling well short of poll predictions that had put his support at 42-47%.

However, the biggest surprise was the result for Beatriz Sanchez, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front, FA) candidate, who won 20% of votes, defying polls that suggested she would only win about half that.

Sanchez narrowly missed out on making it into the second round, coming just 2 percentage points behind Alejandro Guillier, a TV personality and candidate for the incumbent centre-left coalition Nueva Mayoria (New Majority).

The FA – a new left-wing coalition formed in January – obtained much of its support from young people and the social movements. It ran on an anti-systemic platform that proposed profound social reforms and a more active role for the state in the economy.

Its primary goal is to overthrow the neoliberal system inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship. For this purpose, it has proposed a constituent assembly that would allow the people to elect representatives to draft a new constitution.

The rise of FA can be largely explained by two factors.

A new generation of voters with an intense desire for political change has emerged in Chile as a result of the high school students-led “Penguin revolution” of 2006 and the university student revolt of 2011.

This new generation seeks greater equality and profound social transformations. It was these young people who make up an important part of the FA’s activist and voter base.

The second factor was the recent changes introduced into Chile’s electoral system.

Under the Pinochet constitution, a “binomial” electoral system was established, which ensured that the two main coalitions dominated politics.

During her term, incumbent president Michelle Bachelet introduced gender quotas and a new proportional representation system that opened up space for smaller parties and allowed new voices to enter the political arena.

As a result, the representation in Congress of parties outside of the two main coalitions jumped from 3% to 17%, with the FA the biggest winner.

The FA now has 20 deputies (16.5% of the lower house) and a senator (11% of the upper house).

With neither of the two coalitions obtaining a majority in the 155-seat lower house (Vamos Chile won 73 seats and Nueva Mayoria has 56), the FA will play a crucial role in parliament over the next four years.

It may also have a decisive impact on the result of the second round of the presidential vote between Pinera and Guiller that will take place on December 17.

Early polls indicate that the result is uncertain and could depend on how successful the candidates are in attracting voters who voted for other parties and the level of voter abstentions, following a turnout of 46% in the first round, one of the lowest in the country’s history.

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