This column discusses the seminal issues which led to the election of Sebastian Pinera in Chile.
Sebastian Pinera is celebrating. After months of campaigning, and participating in a grueling run-off election, the Chilean billionaire has been elected to the highest office of his land.
For the first time in fifty years, the Chilean ruling party has become conservative. Left wing parties have won Chilean elections since the end of the rule of American backed dictator, General Augusto Pinochet .
The campaign was vicious, with Mr. Pinera’s opponents comparing him to Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, as well as dramatically stating that the billionaire would bring about the type of destruction to civil liberties as did the authoritarian regime of Augusto Pinochet .
Until late last year, the election looked to be a contest between the center left Frei and the center right Pinera. That is, until the advent of a charismatic new candidate by the name of Marco Enriquez-Ominami (hereafter referred to as MEO). Unlike his two opponents, MEO was not a seasoned veteran of the rough and tough Chilean politics. A filmmaker by trade, and the son of a revolutionary leader, he bought in new energy to the election. He bought up issues rarely “discussed” in a nation which is among “the most conservative and Catholic in Latin America.” These included gay marriage and abortion .
Without a party backing him, he had little chance of capturing the Presidency. However, as Matthew Shugart, a Professor at the University of California, points out on his blog, MEO’s major contribution was to split the center left party vote. This left the field wide open for Mr. Pinera to capture the office .
Unfortunately for Pinera, he failed to capitalize on the opportunity and capture the absolute majority needed to prevent a runoff election. Thus in the second round of the election, the contest returned back to a struggle between Pinera and Frei. Some hypothesized, however, that MEO’s supporters might be too disgruntled at having lost the election, and refuse to vote for Frei. MEO only endorsed Frei a week before the election, while refusing to call him by his name, instead simply supporting the party.
Frei dutifully reminded the Chilean people of the Pinochet regime, and raised concerns that Pinera would regress humanitarian progresses. Pinera angrily denied such charges and attempted to distance himself from Pinochet. He focused his campaign on change, pointing out that left wing parties had control of the government for nearly two decades .
At the end, the seminal issues influencing the voting pattern were the economy and law and order. Pinera, answered the call of the people by proposing tougher laws and claiming that he would revitalize the economy. As a billionaire who owns a television station, stakes in the flagship Chile airline, as well as playing a major role in popularizing credit cards in his nation, his claims of being an individual who understands businesses and the economy are taken seriously. Pinera also promised to create a million new jobs, and assured an average economic growth of 6% for the next four years. In addition, he proposed to hire 10,000 new police officers to prevent rising crime rates in the nation  .
At the end of the day, although Frei and Pinera agreed on most economic and social issues, Pinera simply came off as a more credible man for the job of energizing the economy. After twenty years of rule by the Concert of Parties for Democracy, Chileans decided to put their hope for the next four years, on the man that they hope will be their Golden Boy, Sebastian Pinera.
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Matthew, Shugart. “Chile: election 2009.” Fruits and Votes (2009): n. pag. Web. 1 Feb 2010. http://fruitsandvotes.com/?p=3680
”Right-wing millionaire Pinera gets historic win in Chile.” Times of India (2010): n. pag. Web. 23 Jan 2010. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/Right-wing-millionaire-Pinera-gets-historic-win-in-Chile/articleshow/5467677.cms
Salinas, Eva. “Chile Election Heats Up After Candidates Face-off On Domestic, Foreign Policies .” Santiago Times (2010): n. pag. Web. 23 Jan 2010.
Warren, Michael. “Pinera vows to remake Chile as president .” Associated Press (2010): n. pag. Web. 23 Jan 2010. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=9583889
Warren, Michael. ” Sebastian Pinera Wins Chile Presidency.” Huffington Post (2010): n. pag. Web. 23 Jan 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/17/sebastian-pinera-wins-chi_n_426596.html
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Cover Image by Sebastian Pinera