Centre loses out in Chile

Chile is headed for a very competitive runoff in its presidential election next month, if Sunday’s first round results are anything to go by. (See my preview here.)

As the polls had predicted, far-right candidate José Antonio Kast topped the poll with 27.9% (see official results here). The far-left’s Gabriel Boric was not far behind on 25.8%, then a big gap to another three candidates grouped tightly together: Franco Parisi (right-wing populist) on 12.8%, Sebastián Sichel (centre-right) only 1,500 votes further back, also 12.8%, and Yasna Provoste (centre-left) on 11.6%.

So the duopoly of centre-left and centre-right has been decisively broken, and Chile is in for major change either way. Kast and Boric will contest the second round on 19 December, with the winner to take office next March, succeeding centre-right incumbent Sebastián Piñera.

Taking all seven presidential candidates, the three that are right of centre have 53.5% of the vote between them; the four to the left of centre have 46.5%. That suggests that Kast will start with an advantage; for what it’s worth, the polls mostly agree.

For as slightly different perspective, however, we can look at the results of the legislative election held at the same time. In the vote for the Chamber of Deputies, seven left-of-centre tickets had 50.5% of the vote between them and won 79 seats. The four right-of-centre tickets had 45.1% and 74 seats, with independents taking the remaining 4.4% and two seats.

That wasn’t the only difference. In the Chamber of Deputies election, the centre-right had more than twice the vote of Kast’s Christian Social Front, reversing the position in the presidential election. And the centre-left was close behind the far left, 17.2% to 20.9%, instead of trailing by 14 points.

The Senate – probably not as good a guide, since not all of the country was voting and personal votes are more important – was different again. The right in aggregate had 44.6% and won 13 seats, with centre-right outvoting far right by almost three to one. The left was on 42.5% and 12 seats, and a larger independent vote (12.9%) garnered two seats.

All in all it looks as if Chileans are not as wedded to the extremes as the presidential vote might suggest. And that’s probably good news for Boric, since although he merits the appellation “far left”, he seems to be closer to the mainstream than Kast, having defeated a more uncompromising candidate in the primary. He should have a better chance of rallying broad support.

Earlier this year, when Peru’s second round saw a similar clash of the extremes, I said that I thought the far right offered a better chance for the survival of democracy. (Peruvian voters ignored me and gave the far left a narrow victory.) In Chile I’m inclined to say the opposite: Boric will no doubt do awful damage to the economy if he wins, but Kast looks like the greater threat to the constitutional order.

Finally, it’s interesting to compare with the mid-term legislative election the previous week in Argentina (previewed here). Although that was also billed as a victory for the extremes, in fact the two mainstream tickets retained more than three-quarters of the vote between them: the governing left-Peronists with 33.9% and the opposition centre-right with 42.3%.

(Official results are here, but there is no summary table; I’m using the one at the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which gives similar but more recent figures to those reported at La Nación.)

That translates into a gain for the centre-right, leaving the Chamber of Deputies evenly matched: 118 centre-right, 117 left-Peronists, and 22 others – including seven right-Peronists, four “libertarians” and four Trotskyists. With two years of his term to run, president Alberto Fernández may have a difficult relationship with his legislature.

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