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Chile: Onwards for the Battle between Matthei and Bachelet

By: Sofía Ramírez Fionda - Nov 18, 2013, 10:16 am

EspañolYesterday’s presidential election in Chile failed to provide a definite result. Michelle Bachelet, candidate for the moderate-socialist Nueva Mayoría alliance, fell just short of the presidency with 46.67 percent of the vote. Evelyn Matthei, President Piñera’s candidate leaning towards a more free market approach, trailed by more than 20 points at 25.01 percent.

In third and fourth places, Marco Enríquez-Ominami of the Partido Progresista (PRO) received 10.99 percent, and Franco Parisi, an independent candidate, received 10.11 percent. The remaining five candidates came in at under 3 percent, in an election with a higher than normal number of options.

Given a majority threshold to assume the presidency, according to Chile’s election laws, Bachelet and Matthei will confront each other on December 15 in a second round of voting. If she succeeds then, Bachelet will be the first president to achieve two terms in office, and she remains the strong frontrunner. She has achieved this strong electoral position by building a wide coalition, including socialists, Christian democrats, social democrats, and even outright communists.

Bachelet shows confidence in her upcoming victory. However, the concurrent legislative elections did not provide her with an outcome sufficient to give her the necessary support for a constitutional reform, one of the key planks of her campaign. She is not in a position to garner the two-thirds majority in the National Congress, even if she does have the support to achieve her education and taxation initiatives. Other changes that the Nueva Mayoria seeks to realize, relating to homosexuality and abortion, also appear within the coalition’s grasp once the new parliament comes together in March of 2014.

Matthei faces an uphill battle this month, if she is to overcome the support for Bachelet and her alliance. As the candidate for the Renovación Nacional and Unión Democrática Independiente parties, she will have to capture essentially all remaining votes from the eliminated candidates. However, ideological diversity among those voters makes that a particularly difficult task.

Enríquez-Ominami and Parisi were disappointed, since both had sought to exceed Matthei and take on Bachelet in the second round, despite polls in line with yesterday’s outcome. Matthei, on the other hand, showed pleasure with at least getting second place. A loss in the first round would have been a severe blow to the legacy of the Chilean right.

President Piñera held a press conference once the final results were in. In addition to his party’s result, he expressed concern with the low voter turnout — just 6 million Chileans, 56 percent of the electorate. This was the first fully voluntary-participation election in Chile. Previously, registration was optional, but for those registered, voting was obligatory.

Translated by Fergus Hodgson.

Sofía Ramírez Fionda Sofía Ramírez Fionda

Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ramírez Fionda is a former Spanish-language editor and journalist with the PanAm Post. She holds degrees in political science and international relations, and you can follow her on Twitter @SofiFionda.