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Cablegate: Concertacion Decision to Run Two Lists for Upcoming

P 191940Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3410
INFO AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
AMEMBASSY LIMA
AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO
AMEMBASSY ASUNCION
CIA WASHDC
HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS SANTIAGO 000581


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CI
SUBJECT: CONCERTACION DECISION TO RUN TWO LISTS FOR UPCOMING
MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS CALLED "PANDORA'S BOX"

REF: Santiago 480

1. Summary: Concertacion coalition parties announced on June 5 that
they will run two lists of candidates in October's municipal
elections, the first time since winning power in 1990 that the
Concertacion is running a split ticket. The two larger parties -
Socialists and Christian Democrats - will run on one ticket and the
two smaller parties -- the Party for Democracy and Social Radicals
-- on another. President Bachelet and other senior GOC officials
tried to mediate with party leaders to ensure a unity ticket, but
failed. The center-right Alianza opposition is salivating at the
chance to exploit a divided Concertacion and increase their gains in
the elections. Analysts differ in their analysis of the pros and
cons of the formula, but generally agree that two lists of
candidates could seriously weaken Concertacion coalition cohesion.
End Summary.

Two Weeks of debate on "Two Lists"
----------------------------------

2. The day after President Bachelet's State of the Union address on
May 21 (ref a) -- where she called for politicians to approve
electoral reform and to "leave aside the calculator" -- the Party
for Democracy (PPD) and the Radical Party (PRSD) informed their
Concertacion counterparts, the Socialist Party (PS) and the
Christian Democrats (DC), that they would run their own list of
candidates for municipal council elections in October. Two weeks of
debate, commentary and criticisms in media outlets followed.
Despite a public call and personal intervention in favor of
Concertacion unity by Bachelet, the Concertacion parties were unable
to reach an agreement. On June 5, they agreed to disagree
announcing that there will be two Concertacion lists for municipal
council members (2,134 total seats: one made up of PPD/PRSD
candidates and the other of PS/DC). However, the parties agreed
that the Concertacion will still run a single candidate in the
mayoral races.

3. Negotiation of candidacies for the municipal elections has
always been a challenge for the Concertacion. Minority parties (PPD
and PRSD) historically have been forced to limit their candidates in
favor of the larger parties (DC and PS). In the last round of
municipal elections in 2004, the Christian Democrats put up 906
candidates for municipal councils, while the other Concertacion
parties each put up between 300 and 400. Because a majority of
council members are running for re-election this year, all the
Concertacion parties would have little wiggle room to increase their
number of candidates under a single Concertacion list.

Breaking Free of Coalition Constraints
----------------- --------------------

4. Because running as a coalition limits the number of candidates
each party can present -- and requires tough seat-by-seat
negotiations among the four Concertacion parties -- breaking out
into two lists offers some attractions for minority parties. By
running two lists, the PPD and PRSD can offer candidacies to over a
thousand more supporters. Two lists also give the PPD the chance to
compete openly with the DC, to whom it gave up 16 municipalities in
2004 so that it could run its candidate for Mayor of Santiago (who
then lost to an opposition independent). The PPD believes that
running its own list with the Radicals is a Concertacion opportunity
to elect more council members, arguing that a broader slate will
capture more votes from centrist voters who might otherwise vote for
the Alianza opposition.

5. PPD leader Pepe Auth defended the proposal in an opinion piece
by arguing that running two lists is a way to "open the doors and
the windows of the Concertacion" and that what is at stake is not
the unity of the coalition, but its willingness to "re-encounter the
social world that it represents." He stated that running two lists
for municipal elections is a way to get around Chile's "binomial
politics mentality" which forces Chile's political diversity into
two large "blocks" and leaves "few spaces for open competition and
new leadership." He called the municipal elections the "front door
of democracy" and argued that it should be sufficiently wide enough
to allow women, youth, social leaders, representatives of indigenous
peoples, and independents to enter.

The Pro-Unity Stance
--------------------

6. For the DC and the PS, the idea of running two lists is
anathema. Not only does it open the door to greater intra-coalition
competition, but it reportedly favors the opposition Alianza as
Concertacion parties compete with each other. It is also a sign
that the DC -- historically the largest coalition party -- has lost
its leadership position within the Concertacion.

Bachelet Joins the Fray and Gets Burned
------------------ --------------------

7. Initially, President Bachelet limited her involvement to
underlining Concertacion unity and the government's preference that
the Concertacion run one list. The president was criticized for an
"evident weakness in government leadership" compared to her
predecessors. On June 2, Bachelet --reportedly ceding to continued
pressure from the DC and PS leadership -- called all three former
Concertacion presidents to a meeting at La Moneda presidential
palace, where together they called for Concertacion unity. However,
by June 5, the parties were not able to reach an agreement on a
single list and announced that the Concertacion would run two lists
of municipal council candidates. Analysts have commented in the
press that the PPD/PRSD "win" of their own list had a "demolishing
effect" on Bachelet's leadership.

Reactions
---------

8. Some traditional Concertacion leaders have suggested that
running two lists is a "Pandora's Box" that signals the "beginning
of the end" of the Concertacion. FM Foxley was less dire but said
"it is not a good signal for the country." Others are downplaying
the decision, and argue that the two lists make it easier for all
parties to run more candidates, include more of their supporters,
and avoid tense negotiations over how to divvy up a limited number
of coalition nominees. Some predict that it won't make much
difference in the number of elected seats overall. Larger concerns
regarding what may happen in the longer term -- congressional and
presidential elections in 2009 -- have been expressed by the PS/DC
while the PPD and the PRSD insist that the two lists will bring a
breath of fresh air to municipal elections. They argue that the
move should not be interpreted as a sign of division within the
Concertacion.

9. Meanwhile, the center-right opposition is salivating at the
opportunity to exploit intra-Concertacion rivalries in the municipal
elections. The two parties that make up the Alianza, which
historically run a single list in municipal elections, will try to
ensure even greater unity this time and to increase their chances of
victory.

10. Comment: Bachelet is the first Concertacion president who has
been unable to maintain coalition unity in the face of an upcoming
electoral cycle. The failure to agree on a single list reveals yet
again the differences between the four Concertacion parties, who see
elections as a chance to increase their strength within the
Concertacion. However, it is difficult to predict the impact of
"two lists" on the October elections. Interestingly, the press
dropped the issue of the two lists immediately after the decision
was announced. Only time will tell if the Concertacion parties have
moved on as well. End comment.

SIMONS

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