Out From the Shadow of Pinochet: A Guide to Chile's Election

  • First round of voting on Nov. 19, with run-off on Dec. 17
  • Billionaire and former President Pinera leading in the polls

Beatriz Sanchez, a Chilean presidential candidate, stands for a photograph following an interview in Santiago on May 31, 2017.

Photographer: Cristobal Palma/Bloomberg

Chileans are spoiled for choice in November’s presidential election, with candidates ranging from an ultraconservative, via a billionaire and a TV pundit, to an alliance that stands to the left of the Communist Party. The upshot is an election that is harder to call than almost any since the return of democracy 27 years ago.

The fragmentation of politics reflects the breakdown of the economic consensus in South America’s wealthiest nation. The rapid growth of the past quarter-century has ended and politicians are divided over how to restore the economy’s former dynamism. Some argue that the neoliberal economic model imposed by former dictator Augusto Pinochet is exhausted and what Chile needs now is greater equality and more state intervention to expand beyond raw materials. Others argue the country has already gone too far in its pursuit of equality and the incoming government must do more to promote free markets.

For many Chileans it is all too much. A quarter remain undecided over who they will vote for and as many as half may choose not to vote at all if past trends continue.

Pinochet’s Legacy

The last 44 years of politics in Chile has been marked by one man -- Augusto Pinochet. The opposition alliance is dominated by people who supported his dictatorship; the ruling alliance by those who fought against it. But 27 years later and the old allegiances are beginning to break down. Pinochet is long dead and democracy firmly entrenched. That means the Christian Democrats are starting to question their loyalty to a bloc that includes the Communist and Socialist parties. At the same time, a whole new group of parties has sprung up on the left demanding more radical change, often led by people who are too young to remember much of the dictatorship. For them, the simple fact of opposing Pinochet is no longer enough to command loyalty to the ruling coalition.

In the center ground, a new series of parties have appeared, appealing to the economically liberal, but trying to ditch the right-wing’s authoritarian and conservative past.

Elections are no longer a fight between two monolithic blocs defined by their attitude to a dictatorship that ended more than quarter of a century ago.

The Candidates

Faced with this new political scenario, Chileans go to the polls Nov. 19, with a run-off Dec. 17 should no one win more than 50 percent in the first round. The new government will take over March 11, ending President Michelle Bachelet’s four years in office.

For the first time since democracy was restored in 1990, the center-left ruling alliance is split. The bloc, which has governed Chile for 23 of the past 27 years, will present two candidates -- former TV pundit Alejandro Guillier and Christian Democrat Carolina Goic. Adding to the bloc’s problems is a new alliance further to the left. The alliance was formed in January, emerging from a series of protest movements headed by students and pensioners. Its candidate, Beatriz Sanchez, is a popular radio presenter.

On the other side of the spectrum is billionaire and former President Sebastian Pinera, who heads the opposition right-wing alliance. He is currently leading in the polls.

Other candidates include Jose Antonio Kast, a Catholic who opposed the legalization of divorce just 13 years ago, and Marco Enriquez-Ominami, the son of a revolutionary Marxist killed during the dictatorship who now campaigns on a center-left ticket.

What’s at Stake

Chile’s economy is enduring its slowest four years of growth since the early 1980s. The downturn, which was triggered by a slump in copper prices, has spread to almost all industries, unemployment is rising and the budget deficit has expanded. Many in the business community blame the slowdown on Bachelet’s reforms designed to narrow inequality. The president has guaranteed free higher education for 60 percent of students, empowered labor unions and pledged to improve pensions for the poor. While Guillier wants to consolidate Bachelet’s reforms, Sanchez wants to push them much further and Pinera wants to reverse them.

But the election goes beyond a simple debate over equality. Guillier and Sanchez both question whether the free market economics of the past will enable Chile to make the final jump to developed nation status in the next few years. For them, the government must do more to promote economic diversification, ending the dependency on raw materials such as copper, forestry products and fishing. By contrast, Pinera says the economy merely needs to be freed from the higher taxes and regulations imposed by Bachelet in order to restore growth. Just give industry the space, and entrepreneurs will find a way.

-- Below is a series of articles based on interviews with the candidates:-

Cut the Caricatures; Sanchez Backs ‘Viable’ Chilean Revolution
Billionaire Unleashes Chile’s Animal Spirits as Election Nears
Chile Presidential Hopeful Looks to Old Trick to Revive Growth
Insulza Says He Is the Man to Restore Chilean Business Sentiment
Kast’s Radical Plan to Transform Chile; Overhauling the Overhaul
Chilean Candidate Ossandon Backs Free Markets With an Iron Fist
Chile’s Moderate Radical Who Wants to Dismantle Neoliberalism
Former TV Pundit Looking to Lead Chile Says Forget the Populism
No Antiestablishmentarianism Here, Please, We’re Chileans

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