SANTIAGO – A bit more than a year ago, Sebastián Piñera defeated Alejandro Guillier in the second round of the presidential elections. As the Chilean president is upon completing the first year of his four-year term, even parties in his own political coalition start looking ahead to the presidential elections of 2021 – reason enough for Chile Today to list five possible future presidents of Chile.
It has been said that democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least. When talking about Chilean politics, this quote is more than true. Whether it’s a post on the Chile Today Facebook Page, a quote from a minister or a tweet: one small action can generate a storm of controversy in the polarized country that is Chile.
But there are popular politicians, even in Chile. And we chose five, based upon recent independent investigations, lists and nominations. According to Chile Today, Chile´s next president is among these five.
Joaquín Lavín (Mayor of Las Condes / UDI)
First on the list is Joaquín Lavín, currently serving as mayor of Las Condes and a member of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). Competing in the upcoming presidential elections would not be the first time for Lavín, as he ran twice before.
In 1999, Lavín made it to the second round of the presidential elections, where he lost to Ricardo Lagos, with less than a 3% difference (51.31% to 48.69%). In 2005, Lavín decided to run again, but saw Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera go to the second round, although Piñera received only 3% more votes than Lavín.
For the upcoming elections Lavín could do pretty well: according to a survey from national polling institute Cadem, he is the highest regarded politician in the country, with an approval rate of 70%. According to a more recent investigation, Lavín had an approval rating of 48%, still leading a list of most popular politicians in Chile.
Lavín has a long academic and political history. He is one of the founders of the Chilean private university Universidad de Desarrollo. During the military dictatorship, Lavín worked for the pro-Pinochet newspaper El Mercurio and being an economist, he wrote a book in support of the Chicago Boys, who outlined the economic policies of dictator Pinochet.
He served as Minister of Education under the first Piñera administration, losing his position during the students protests at the end of 2011, widely known as the “Chilean Winter,” when hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets to demand a reform of the educational system. As Lavín´s UDI party is currently having internal leadership elections, Lavín could become one of the most prominent figures to lead the conservative party to its first presidential victory in history.
Camila Vallejo (Deputy / PC)
The second candidate on the list is among 20 of the World´s Most Influential Young Leaders in Government according to Apolitico. She was called “The World’s Most Glamorous Revolutionary” by New York Times Magazine, and The Guardian called her “A student who can shut down a city”. This is Camila Vallejo, a member of the Communist Party (PC) and one of the leaders behind the student protests of 2011.
Vallejo was born into a true communist nest. Her parents were PC members, and PC members were prosecuted during Pinochet’s dictatorship. As a student, Vallejo was a spokesperson of the student federation at Universidad de Chile, and became federation president in 2010, just one year before the protests erupted.
Being only the second leading woman in the history of the student union, Vallejo became one of the faces of the student movements in the Chilean Winter. After the protests, Vallejo continued her political career as a PC member and was elected to Congress with an overwhelming majority vote of 43% for Santiago’s La Florida district.
Vallejo´s role in the historic student protests landed her on Time Magazine’s list of “100 People Who Mattered” in 2011, and she is seen as the most influential Chilean on Twitter, even above President Piñera . As PC president Guillermo Teillier has already announced, his party will be competing in the upcoming elections, it seems more a question of when, not if, Vallejo will be a candidate in this race.
Cathy Barriga (Mayor of Maipú disctrict / UDI)
Cathy Barriga became famous not for her political skills. Early October, a video appeared of the mayor of Santiago’s Maipú suburb, doing the so-called “Kiki Challenge”, an internet challenge where a person leaves a moving car to dance to Drake´s hit “In My Feelings”.
She received a lot of criticism, as she used an official municipality car to shoot her video. It resulted in her paying 10% of her salary as fine. But for Barriga, a little controversy, especially if cameras are involved, is nothing more than part of the political game.
Barriga became nationally known as “Queen of Beaches and Swimming Pools”, as part of a show on Chilevision. After a short career on national television, mostly appearing on reality shows, she took her chances in politics, resulting in her election as mayor of Maipú in 2016.
Ever since, Barriga has been encircled with controversy over lack of integrity. Forging alliances with companies for personal benefit, accepting expensive gifts, luring Maipú residents with concert tickets and misusing her position as mayor: why is Barriga on this list?
Barriga is part of the UDI, and UDI´s current president Jacqueline van Rysselberghe announced last November that she saw Barriga fit to run as candidate for her party. Although her announcement came as a surprise to the public, Barriga responded in a more typical way. “To be mayor of Maipú is to be president of a small Chile. In the streets, they already call me president.”
Although Barriga´s track record doesn’t come close to the levels of experiences of the other presidential candidates on this list, having little (or even no prior) political experience as a television personality does not rule one out.
Who expected Beppe Grillo to become a success when he launched his Five Star Movement in Italy? And who expected a businessman, real estate developer, and television personality, who changed political parties at least five times, to cut through a field of Republican candidates, and the Democrat nominee, to become the current president of the United States?
Jorge Sharp (Mayor of Valparaíso / FA)
The mayor of Valparaíso is the highest rated Chilean politician in the under-35 category, with an approval rating of 77%. Sharp is another example of the huge impact the 2011 student protests had on the current Chilean political landscape, as three out of five candidates on this list were student leaders during the protest wave.
Sharp is member of Frente Amplio (FA), the biggest surprise during the last presidential elections. As FA-frontrunner Beatriz Sánchez disappeared from the political stage, Frente Amplio is getting ready to again present a strong political campaign during next year’s municipal elections, and the presidential elections of 2021.
Since the last election, FA (which consists of 14 different political parties) has been having problems maintaining a united front , but Sharp, as mayor of Valparaíso, is one of the politicians who seems to escape controversy. Ahead of the 2021 elections, Sharp announced that four FA-parties will merge into one party to better contest the presidential elections.
As mayor of Valparaíso, Sharp inherited a huge debt from his predecessor, Castro Muñoz (UDI). But already in his first year, Sharp has managed to decrease both public and private expenses, from a monthly CLP$300 million to CLP$150 million. His more realistic way of governing Valparaíso, in combination with the tourism management, have made Sharp a popular mayor. Being able to govern a complex city such as Valparaíso, could be another step towards the Chilean presidency.
Giorgio Jackson (Deputy / RD)
During the last elections, Giorgio Jackson received the highest personal vote of all politicians in Chile. After leading the student protests, alongside people such as Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric and Jorge Sharp, Jackson founded the Revolución Democrática (RD) party, which supported Beatriz Sánchez during the presidential elections of 2017. After his role in the student protests, Jackson was added to the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers List of 2012.
According to a recent investigation, by Centro de Estudios Públicos (a private, non-profit, academic foundation dedicated to public issues), Jackson is among the five most popular politicians in Chile, having an approval rating of 39%.
Upon the elections of 2017, Jackson was one of the main politicians to unite the Chilean leftwing parties into one front, Frente Amplio. It was Jackson, among others, who asked Beatriz Sánchez, working as radio journalist, to be their presidential candidate. Sánchez lost in the first round of the presidential elections falling only 3% behind Alejandro Guillier.
Jackson himself received 23.7% of the votes in the parliamentary elections of 2017, becoming the politician during these elections who received the most personal votes. Jackson announced he won´t run again for deputy, opening the path to a participation in the presidential elections of 2021.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.