NATIONAL OPINION Presidential Elections

Will Chile choose between a Christian Democrat and a Communist?

The right is celebrating the victory of Christian Democrat Claudio Orrego in the governors’ runoff. But the loud celebration only serves to drown out the collapse of the right-wing vote. An unprecedented scenario is emerging for the presidential elections in November.

The presidential campaign has started on June 13 with the governor runoffs in 13 of the country’s 16 regions – three candidates had already won in the first round. The next day, even before deeper analysis of the results, the main ideological blocks and parties began betting their chips.

But let’s start by analyzing what happened. For the first time, regional authorities were democratically elected. Previously, they served at the pleasure of the president. In the wake of a low turnout of 19.1 percent, the crushing defeat of the right was evident. Ruling coalition Chile Vamos won only one governorship while opposition figures will rule the other 15 regions. Undoubtedly, something unexpected happened.

What a Surprise

However, the major surprise was the ‘oxygen balloon’ the Constituent Unity list obtained. It groups the center-left and experienced a popularity collapse in recent years. This time, the former New Majority coalition with which Michelle Bachelet had governed, obtained 47.48 percent, followed by the Approve Dignity list, which groups the Communist Party and the Broad Front coalition, with 28.68 percent. Chile Vamos fell far behind, with 13.48 percent, leaving it electorally and emotionally distressed.

Another important element is that these first democratically elected governors will not reflect at all society’s gender balance. Let us remember that the Constituent Convention and even parliament, although not in its composition, require gender parity. But only three female governors were elected.

A more serious situation has developed in Metropolitan Region, where around seven of the country’s 18 million voters live. Christian Democrat Claudio Orrego, on the Constituent Unity list, defeated Karina Oliva, who received support from the Communist Party and the Broad Front.

However, Orrego’s triumph was strongly carried by the right-wing vote, which turned out en masse, far surpassing the national average. Especially residents of Santiago’s richest districts – those that overwhelmingly rejected a new Constitution in October – voted for Orrego. Hence, the old left players – the Socialist Party, Party for Democracy and Radical Party – felt ambiguous.

Chilean right defeated in regional elections

The November Race

Orrego’s victory was a mental blow for the opposition, but on the right, fears of a repeat emerged. Right-wing candidates losing in the first round would strengthen the positions of Communist presidential candidate Daniel Jadue and Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste. And Provoste, who is also Senate president, has not even announced a campaign, only signaling a possible run.

Things are complicated on the right. Four candidates compete in the primaries. Not long ago, the current mayor of Las Condes, Joaquín Lavín, who’s a liberal in the very conservative UDI party, was widely seen to be the next president. But now, the government’s favorite, Sebastián Sichel, is gaining popularity. Sichel is an independent but was a member of several parties, including the Christian Democrats. He has attracted the support of the hard-right and the investment community.

However, José Antonio Kast, a dictatorship nostalgic and leader of the Republican party, will also run and take some of these votes. He could at least repeat his 2017 success, when he won 7.9% in the first round, but this time with the support of former Chile Vamos voters.

Opposition Fractures

Rifts reopened in the opposition the same night Oliva’s defeat became clear. Mutual blaming, recriminations because of the inability to reach agreements, and of course, the wound that was inflicted when a Socialist Party-Broad Front election agreement bled through again.

Yet, soon after the results were in, the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party, and the Party for Democracy announced an agreement to hold an internal primary between Socialist and former Bachelet spokesperson Paula Narváez and Yasna Provoste, who represents the Christian Democrats’ progressive wing. The signal has meaning, because in practice it means Provoste is considering a run while Narvaéz remains stuck below 2% in the polls.

In this scenario, Provoste and Jadue would compete in the second round. That would be historic because a communist was never so close to entering government palace La Moneda. It also could be a true resurrection of the Christian Democrats, who were practically wiped out in recent elections and the plebiscite. Third, this could become a historic election because for the first time the right would not get a shot.

Of course, much will depend on turnout and if Chile Vamos can recover. Another big unknown is the “People’s List” which debuted in the Constitutional Convention elections and favors anti-system positions. Anything can happen.

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