Election preview: Chile

The last of the big elections for 2013 happens tomorrow, in Chile.

So far, it’s been a mixed year. Incumbents have done well in some countries – Israel, Ecuador, Germany – but come badly unstuck in others, such as Bulgaria, Iran and Australia. The majority of results have been clear-cut, but there have been noteworthy exceptions, including Italy, Kenya and Venezuela.

Chile is not in line to add to the list of cliffhangers. Although the media try hard to make it sound interesting, tomorrow’s result is completely predictable. The only (small) uncertainty is whether or not a second round (scheduled for 15 December) will be necessary.

Michelle Bachelet, centre-left president from 2006 to 2010, is set to return to the top job. Opinion polls show her with a lead of 10% or more over her centre-right opponent, Evelyn Matthei, from the incumbent Independent Democratic Union (UDI).

With nine candidates in the field, it’s unlikely that Bachelet will reach the 50% needed for a first round victory, although the possibility can’t be discounted entirely. With no real doubt about the eventual outcome, undecided voters might well rally to her tomorrow simply to avoid the inconvenience of a runoff.

Of the other seven, the only two who seem to have significant support are centrist independent Franco Parisi, an economist with a high profile as a TV commentator, and the Progressive Party’s Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who took third place in 2009 with 20.1%. Given the recent success of novel centrist forces in Europe, Parisi may indulge some hopes of edging out Matthei in the first round for a place in the runoff, but that’s probably a bridge too far.

The winner last time, Sebastián Piñera, had 44.1% in the first round. But although his three opponents were all from the left, there was enough leakage of their votes for him to score a narrow second-round victory, becoming the country’s first centre-right president in the post-Pinochet era.

Presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, so Piñera is not in the running, but his term has not been seen as a success. His party has also had trouble settling on a candidate, with two previous choices forced to withdraw. Bachelet, by contrast, was a popular president and has been the favorite ever since her candidacy was announced.

Voters will also elect a new lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and half of the Senate. Both houses currently lean slightly to the left, but with no overall majority; the centre-left will be expecting to consolidate its position tomorrow. Deputies are elected in pairs, so an evenly-balanced chamber is very much the norm.

One feature of interest is that this will be Chile’s first election since the abolition of compulsory voting. Turnout will no doubt be lower than 2009’s 87.7%, but that figure hides the fact that the number enrolled was considerably less than the eligible population. As part of the change, automatic enrolment has been introduced, so the actual number voting may even increase.

Results should appear during the middle of the day on Monday, Australian time. The Electoral Service website is here.

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