From Street Protests to Kingmaker, Chile’s New Left Comes of Age

  • Frente Amplio may hold the key to the second round of voting
  • Alliance of 14 parties only formed in January of this year

Confetti falls as presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera waves a Chilean national flag at the party headquarters during elections in Santiago on Nov. 19, 2017. 

Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg

After the results of Chile’s elections altered the political landscape and raised the prospect of a neck-to-neck race for the presidency four weeks from now, attention is turning to the left-wing coalition that came from nowhere to sweep 20.3 percent of the vote: Frente Amplio.

The alliance of 14 disparate parties formed in January and led by Beatriz Sanchez didn’t win enough to get into the second round, but did gain enough to determine who wins that run-off between billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who garnered 36.6 percent, and Alejandro Guillier from the ruling alliance, who got 22.7 percent.

Beatriz Sanchez

Photographer: Cristobal Palma/Bloomberg

Frente Amplio’s 1.3 million voters, many of them students who took to the streets over the last few years in demand of free higher education, now become the power brokers. Their support in the Dec. 17 election would swing the vote in Guillier’s favor. Their abstention would leave the path clear for Pinera to return to the presidency for a second term.

“Frente Amplio has the keys to the second round in their hands,” said Kenneth Bunker, director of the electoral program at Universidad Central. “Guillier can’t win without them.”

The coalition ranges from environmental groups, such as the Ecological Green Party, via the Humanist Party to a series of groups on the far left, including the Libertarian Left, the Autonomous Movement, the Autonomous Left and the Pirate Party.

Some of those parties spearheaded the seizure of schools and universities by students across the country in the past few years and brought tens of thousands onto the streets in regular protests. Many have little in common among themselves, let alone with Guillier.

‘Irreconcilable Differences’

“There is a sector of Frente Amplio that is going to say it doesn’t want any type of accord with Guillier,” said Gonzalo Muller, a professor at the government faculty at the Universidad de Desarrollo. “There are some very different voices in the bloc.”

Alejandro Guillier

Photographer: Cristobal Palma/Bloomberg

For more on Sanchez and Frente Amplio’s proposals, click here

Giorgio Jackson, one of the founders of Frente Amplio, told La Tercera newspaper that the coalition would not endorse Guillier, even though “Pinera wouldn’t be good for Chile.” It is up to Guillier to attract Frente Amplio voters with pledges to abolish private pension funds and improve state health-care, he said.

“Many people that voted for the Frente Amplio will vote against Pinera, not for Guillier,” said another leader of the alliance, Jorge Sharp.

If convincing the Frente Amplio supporters wasn’t hard enough, Guillier also has to persuade members of the Christian Democratic party to back him after their own candidate, Carolina Goic, mustered 5.9 percent of the vote in the first round. The Christian Democrats have since endorsed Guillier, though whether their supporters will follow that line is yet to be seen.

To see more on Guillier’s proposals, click here

Give too much to the Frente Amplio and Guillier may lose the sympathy of the Christian Democrats. Go too far the other way, and he loses Sanchez and her supporters. It is going to be a difficult juggling act.

‘Marginal Advantage’

Pinera has a easier task ahead of him.

For a starter, Pinera’s coalition only has four parties and already has the support of the one renegade candidate on the far right, Jose Antonio Kast, who polled 7.9 percent on Sunday.

“The second round is going to be tight,” Muller said. “But Pinera has a marginal advantage. The internal discipline of his coalition gives him the chance to be more audacious when he looks for more moderate voters.”

The success of the Frente Amplio in Sunday’s election came as a surprise to many. Sanchez’s 20.3 percent compared with the 8.5 percent who backed her in the latest survey by the Centro de Estudios Publicos released earlier this month. The alliance also won 20 of the 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Sanchez has said Guillier is a better candidate than Pinera, but complained his manifesto is vague and doesn’t do enough to overhaul an economic system that was originally put in place by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The Frente Amplio “will probably leave it up to their supporters to decide,” the professor said. “It is risky for their leaders to call on voters to do something because they could rebel against it.”

All Guillier can do is open a dialogue and hope to persuade the majority to back him. That is a tall order.

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