No surprises in Chile

No-one expected the second round of the Chilean presidential election, held yesterday, to be close. And sure enough, it wasn’t, with socialist candidate and former president Michelle Bachelet an easy victor with 62.2%, against the centre-right’s Evelyn Matthei on 37.8%. (Official results here.) AP’s correspondent describes it as “the most decisive victory in eight decades of Chilean elections.”

This is the sort of case that makes two-round elections look like a waste of money. After the first round last month, when Bachelet scored 46.7% (more than twenty points clear of Matthei), I described her as “an unbackable favorite.” It’s not surprising that turnout was low, reportedly about 41%.

Bachelet was president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with stratospheric approval ratings. (Presidents are not permitted to serve consecutive terms.) Her successor, the centre-right’s Sebastián Piñera, won with only a narrow majority and has not been popular. Matthei, who is seen as further to the right (her father was head of the air force under General Pinochet), never really looked like a chance.

The left has had a pretty good couple of years in Latin America, and taking back Chile is another milestone. While Bachelet is some way from the radical league of Evo Morales or Rafael Correa, she ran this time on a more explicitly left-wing platform, including higher corporate taxes to fund new welfare and education programs.

For the first time in the post-Pinochet era, the Communist Party officially formed part of the centre-left coalition, although it remains a minor force, with just six seats in the 120-seat lower house.

As is normal in the Americas, the president is head of government as well as head of state, with strict separation of powers between executive and legislature. But Bachelet’s centre-left coalition also won a clear majority in both houses of Congress, in elections held last month in conjunction with the first round of the presidential election, so she should be in a position to implement her key policies.

Matthei quickly conceded defeat, saying (according to Al-Jazeera) “I hope she does very well. No one who loves Chile can wish otherwise.”

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