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Chile’s new era - Michelle Bachelet's election

Chile’s new era

Roberto Espíndola - openDemocracy
16 - 1 - 2006

Michelle Bachelet’s election as president of Chile represents a historic shift in the profile of Chilean politics, says Roberto Espíndola.

The victory of Michelle Bachelet in the second-round of Chile’s presidential election on Sunday 15 January was in the end decisive. The result – Bachelet received 53.45% of the vote against 46.5% for her rival, Sebastián Piñera – confirmed opinion-poll predictions and the voters’ own forecasts. However, it came after a first round on 11 December where the two candidates of the right-wing Alianza gathered more votes than Bachelet, the sole nominee of the ruling centre-left Concertación, and after an expensive, negative campaign focussing on her and seeking to persuade voters that a woman – and a divorced, agnostic, socialist single mother, into the bargain – couldn’t possibly become Chile’s president.

In the first round the Alianza put forward two candidates, having failed to agree on a joint one: the conservative economist Joaquín Lavín represented the hard-line Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union / UDI), and the billionaire entrepreneur Sebastián Piñera the centre-right Renovación Nacional (National Renewal / RN). Despite UDI’s substantial support amongst low-income groups, Piñera’s dazzling campaign put him ahead with the second plurality at 25.4%, compared with the 23.2% reached by Lavín. At 46%, Bachelet was short of the required majority, giving Piñera the right to confront her in a second round run-off.

There was a fourth candidate in the December round, Tomás Hirsch, representing the leftist Juntos Podemos Más (Together we can do more), a coalition of the Communist Party, the Humanist Party, greens and other groups, who received 5.4% of the vote. This alliance came apart for the second round when Hirsch asked his followers to reject the two main candidates by nullifying their ballots, whilst the communists – after assurances on social policies and a reform of the electoral system – asked its voters to support Bachelet.

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