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Cablegate: The Heat Is On: Key Races to Watch in Chile's Municipal

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTIAGO 000954

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL CI
SUBJECT: THE HEAT IS ON: KEY RACES TO WATCH IN CHILE'S MUNICIPAL
ELECTIONS

REF: SANTIAGO 950

1. Summary. With thousands of seats being filled in this weekend's
municipal elections, results can be interpreted in many different
ways. One of the principal metrics that pundits will analyze are
the outcomes of mayoral races in key districts, known as "emblematic
communes". Of the communes considered bellwethers due to population
size or potential to change hands between the governing coalition
Concertacion and opposition Alianza, the very close race in Santiago
between the Concertacion candidate and a popular Alianza mayor from
a neighboring commune is the most important of all. End Summary.

Chilean Local Elections 101
---------------------------

2. Chile's rather unusual electoral system reflects the nation's
statist underpinnings: elections for all city council and mayoral
seats in the country are held on the same day. Voting is mandatory
for registered voters, and those who fail to vote may be fined.
Voters--who cast ballots in gender-segregated voting booths--will
vote for one mayoral and one city council candidate. Voters'
decisions about mayoral candidates are often driven by the
personalities of the candidates themselves. In contrast, party
membership plays a key role in voting for city council members, who
are generally less well known. In fact, split ballot voting is
quite common in municipal elections, with some voters casting
ballots for candidates on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

3. Two different systems govern the mayoral and city council
electoral processes. The mayoral system is quite
straightforward--the candidate with the most votes wins. City
council is a bit more complex. City council positions are allocated
to coalitions following the D'Hondt proportional representation
method. After the number of seats to be allocated to each party in
the commune is decided, the specific individuals who have been
elected are determined by the number of votes each individual
received relative to other candidates from his party.

How Do You Measure Success?
---------------------------

4. With thousands of seats to be filled in a single weekend, it's
no simple task to interpret the election results. However, analysts
typically agree that there are three key factors to watch. Because
party loyalty plays a larger role in city council elections than in
mayoral elections, the percentage of total votes cast nationwide for
each of the parties/coalitions is generally seen as the most
important factor in determining each party's strength (see reftel).
Other key factors are the number of city council members and mayors
elected from each party, the percentage of the votes for mayors won
by each party, and the outcome of mayoral races in "emblematic
communes".

What Makes a Commune "Emblematic"?
----------------------------------

5. Despite lots of discussion in the press and among pundits about
"emblematic communes", it can be hard to pin down which of Chile's
345 communes are emblematic and why. With 80% of the country's
electoral population concentrated in just 66 communes, population is
certainly a key factor. The conservative Alianza coalition
currently holds the mayoral seats in six of the ten most populous
communes in the country. Alfredo Joignant, an academic, political
commentator, and Socialist Party member, told Poloff Oct. 22 that he
believes Concertacion could reverse this statistic in the October 26
election--a significant victory if it occurs. Other communes gain
prominence because of the stature of the candidates, possibility for
an upset, or a closely contested race.

Key Races to Watch
------------------

6. Here's a sampling of some of the key races in this year's
municipal election:

--Santiago: Described as "the mother of all battles" in the press,
the race between Concertacion candidate Jaime Ravinet (Christian
Democrat, or DC) and mayor of La Florida Pablo Zalaquett (Democratic
Union, or UDI) promises to have a photo finish. Although Ravinet,
former Minister of Housing and Defense and former mayor of Santiago,
started with a great advantage, Zalaquett has considerably shortened
the distance between himself and Ravinet, with some polls now
showing the two candidates as nearly tied. A key factor will be the
percentage of votes that the other candidates--Ricardo Israel
(Regional Independent, or PRI) and Miguel Hernandez (Communist
Party, or PC)--receive, most likely about 10 percent. Many feel
that these votes will damage Ravinet's chances, but Zalaquett's poor
performance in a radio debate with the former Minister last Saturday
will count against him. (Note: The commune of Santiago includes
the central area of Santiago, but is just one of many communes in

SANTIAGO 00000954 002 OF 002


the city and metropolitan region of Santiago. End Note.)

--La Florida: One of most populated municipal districts in the city
of Santiago, La Florida houses a large portion of the city's lower
middle class. Pablo Zalaquett's decision to run for mayor of
Santiago rather than run for re-election in La Florida left Alianza
without a natural candidate. Many conservatives feared that Alianza
might lose the seat. After some tight negotiations, Alianza named
current mayor of Estacion Central Gustavo Hasbun as their candidate.
Hasbun runs against the Socialist candidate Jorge Gajardo.
Analysts will also be looking to see how Concertacion performs in
Santiago area communes in comparison to the rest of the country. If
Concertacion can hold its own in the Santiago area, it will be an
indication that public frustration over Transantiago has not yet
translated into a lack of electoral support.

--Concepcisn: Incumbent Jacqueline van Rysselberghe (UDI) is
strongly favored to win the mayoral race in Chile's second largest
city. She is looking to increase the high number of votes she
received in the last municipal elections and potentially become a
nationwide public figure, perhaps even a future presidential
candidate. Knowing that their candidate has little chance of
success in this election, Concertacion hopes that their electoral
agreement with the Communists will allow the Socialist candidate,
former mayor Ariel Ulloa, to be groomed for the next congressional
elections or for a position in government.

-- Iquique: Former mayor Jorge Soria (Independent) had been in
office since the return of democracy in 1990 but was recently
removed from office for misuse of funds. His son Mauricio Soria
(Independent) is running against UDI candidate Mirtha Dubost, who is
supported by former DC Intendente (centrally appointed regional
governor) and Diputada Antonella Sciaraffia. The Concertacion
candidate Patricia Perez (Socialist Party, or PS) doesn't have much
of a chance. Roxana Vigueras (former PS) is representing Juntos
Podemos, a coalition of Communists, Humanists, Greens and other
small parties on the left.

--Valparaso: Mayor Aldo Cornejo (DC) is up for reelection. He is
trying to gain the support of Juntos Podemos in his tight battle
against UDI candidate Jorge Castro, a well-known personality with
his own radio show. However, Juntos Podemos has its own candidate,
Ivan Vuskovic. Concertacion, aware of the difficult situation, has
also intensified support of Cornejo by its public figures.

-- Antofagasta: Former Intendente Marcela Hernando (former Party for
Democracy, or PPD, now running as an independent) is taking on
acting mayor Christian Democrat candidate Gonzalo Dantaganan.
Remarkably, Hernando has been endorsed by the DC, Alianza, and
conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera. However, her
high popularity has dropped a bit over the past few weeks in favor
of Dantaganan, who had been acting mayor since the previous mayor
was removed due to accusations of corruption.

--Talca: Alexis Sepulveda (Social Radical, or PRSD) is the first
social radical candidate chosen to represent the Concertacion in
this city. When a local poll showed Sepulveda one point below
National Renewal (RN) candidate Juan Castro, Concertacion officials
asked Juntos Podemos candidate Roberto Celedon to pull out of the
race but he refused. The risk of losing Talca is well known, so
former presidents Lagos and Frei and presidential candidate Jose
Miguel Insulza have all come out to support Sepulveda on the
campaign trail.

--Temuco: Concertacion candidate Ricardo Celis (PPD) is fighting to
hold onto the office that has been in Concertacion's (DC's) hands
since 1992. He has received a lot of resistance from outgoing mayor
Francisco Huenchumilla (DC) who is not running because he plans to
run for Senate in 2009. Celis' opponent Miguel Becker (RN) is
running again after obtaining 40% of the votes in 2004 with the hope
that he will win the hearts of unhappy DC voters.

7. Comment: With so many different outcomes to track, Chile's
political parties have unlimited possibilities for spinning the
outcome of Sunday's elections. Mayoral victories in key
communes--and above all, in the commune of Santiago--are important
both symbolically and practically in the Chilean political system.
End Comment.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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