A billionaire who has been described as one of the world’s wealthiest politicians just won his second non-consecutive term as president of Chile when he defeated his center-left opponent in what observers are calling a landslide victory in Sunday's election.
As the Washington Post reported, Sebastián Piñera, of the right-leaning National Renovation party and conservative Let’s Go Chile coalition, defeated center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier, of the ruling New Majority coalition, by 9 percentage points, turning the current government out of office. Piñera previously governed Chile between 2009 and 2014. Turnout increased between yesterday’s vote and a Nov. 19 runoff, as large numbers of conservative voters showed up at the polls, while leftists stayed home.
Guillier conceded and congratulated his opponent on his win and his return to the presidency after a four-year gap, according to the BBC.
Like we mentioned above, Piñera is a billionaire who once owned the television channel Chilevision, a large share of Lan Chile airlines, and the Colo-Colo soccer team. He won despite criticisms of his offshore holdings and use of tax havens. He joins Trump and Adrej Babis, a Czech tycoon who rode to electoral victory in a landslide in his home country earlier this year.
As WaPo points out, the 67-year-old will succeed Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, whose New Majority coalition came to power in 2014 on a platform promising sweeping change. Her administration reformed Chile’s tax and education systems and legalized abortion in the event of rape, endangerment to the mother’s life, or an unviable pregnancy. Bachelet began reforming Chile’s constitution, submitting a bill to the Congress earlier this year that would allow for a constitutional convention. Pinera is apparently a fan of many of these reforms and has vowed to preserve them. According to Reuters, Pinera said on Monday he would work to form a “broad cabinet, of continuity and change,” as he sought to strike a tone of conciliation a day after his resounding victory.
Regarding the bill calling for a constitutional convention to reform the dictatorship-era constitution, Pinera said he was in agreement “of perfecting it but in a climate of unity,” according to Reuters.
Pinera’s victory didn’t represent a sharp turn to the right for Chile - the world’s largest copper producer and widely considered Latin America's most-stable economy - as it did exhaustion with Bachelet, whose second term was clouded by accusations of corruption, including an incident involving her son and daughter-in-law. The media and opposition politicians condemned Bachelet’s family for having secured a loan days before her 2013 victory to purchase land that was resold shortly thereafter, generating millions of dollars in profit. Though leftists weren’t the only ones impugned by scandal during her tenure: The right-wing Independent Democratic Union party was implicated in a campaign finance scandal, leading many Chileans to perceive the overall political system as corrupt. Bachelet leaves office with a dismal 23% approval rating.
Though Pinera’s victory is the latest in a wave of support for right-wing candidates across South America. Last year and this year, right-wing parties have won in Argentina and Peru. In Brazil, the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff brought right-wing Michel Temer to office.
According to WaPo, support for leftists parties was still strong during the runoff race, forcing Pinera to move to the center on issues like education and pensions, and managed to exploit divisions between the country’s far-left and center-left factions that caused many voters to stay home in the final round.
Piñera represents a coalition of conservative parties, but his victory does not signal a right turn. In the first round, Piñera won 36.6 percent of the vote, while Guillier took 22.7 percent, and the further left Broad Front candidate, Beatriz Sánchez, won 20.27 percent. The Broad Front increased its seats from 3 to 20 in the lower house, surpassing expectations. The coalition’s strong performance shows support for leftist ideology and pushed Guillier to the left during the second-round campaign; he changed his position on student debt forgiveness and pension reform.
Piñera sought to woo centrist voters by shifting his position on education and pension policy, while also mobilizing the far-right, in part because far-right independent José Antonio Kast did well in the first round. Kast ran a nationalist campaign that called for the construction of a wall between Chile and Peru and won just under 8 percent of votes. Piñera attempted to attract these voters, accusing the center-left parties of moving Chile in the direction of Venezuela and hinted that voter fraud had helped the center-left in the first round. These appeals likely motivated increased conservative turnout in Sunday’s runoff election.
If there’s any broader takeaway from the vote, it’s that Chile’s center is vanishing. In the first round, centrist Christian Democratic Party candidate Carolina Goic won only 5.88% of the vote.
Still, while he won the presidency by a wide margin, Pinera’s administration faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the battle to get things done.
This morning, he shared breakfast with president Bachelet and her family.
Newly elected president Piñera shares breakfast with president Bachelet and Min. of National Affairs Mario Fernandez, discussing transition of power. pic.twitter.com/0jC6H7116z— SantiagoTimes (@SantiagoTimes) December 18, 2017
His coalition controls only 73 of the 155 seats in the lower house. The composition of congress means that the president will need support from the opposition to pass legislation. As we already noted, with fewer centrist lawmakers, the divisiveness in the legislature might soon rival the US Congress.
This may reinforce the electorate’s perception that Chile is “stuck,” generating further discontent.
Pinera will lead Chile until his term ends in 2022.