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Cablegate: Chile's Congressional Elections: Center-Left

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTIAGO 002495

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL CI
SUBJECT: CHILE'S CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS: CENTER-LEFT
CONCERTACION COALITION WINS WORKING MAJORITY IN CONGRESS

REF: SANTIAGO 2486 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) Summary: For the first time since democracy returned
to Chile in 1989, the center-left governing Concertacion
coalition has secured a working majority in both houses of
Congress as a result of the congressional elections on
December 11. When the new Senate takes office in March 2006,
Concertacion will hold 20 seats and the center-right Alianza
opposition 17 (there will be one independent). Ten seats
held by senators-by-appointment are to be eliminated
effective March 2006, reducing the total number of senators
to 38. Concertacion's working majority in the Chamber of
Deputies is slightly larger than in the Senate (65-54; one
independent). The far left coalition, including a small
communist party, once again failed to gain a seat in either
chamber. End summary.

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Concertacion Wins Working Majority in Both Houses
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) Along with the first round of the presidential
elections (ref a), Chileans elected half of their senators
and all of their deputies on December 11. The result: the
center-left ruling Concertacion coalition emerged with a
working majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of
Deputies. Of the 20 Senate races, Concertacion won 11, the
center-right Alianza opposition won 8, and an independent
took one seat. Some of the more prominent senators elected
were former Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear, former UDI head
Pablo Longueira, former president Eduardo Frei, and Juan
Pablo Letelier. In the Chamber of Deputies (where all 120
seats were up for re-election), Concertacion won 65 seats,
the Alianza won 54, and an independent took one seat.

3. (U) While the absolute number of Concertacion senators
remains unchanged from the congressional elections in 2001,
Concertacion's composition has shifted leftward: the centrist
Christian Democrat party lost half of its seats, while the
Socialist Party and the Socialist Radical Democratic Party
each increased their representation. Within the Alianza
coalition, the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party
dropped from 11 to 9 seats, while the National Renewal party
increased from 8 to 9 seats.

4. (U) Below is the composition in the Senate and Chamber of
Deputies when Congress takes office on March 11, 2006:

SENATE (38)

Concertacion (20)

-- Socialist Party (8)
-- Christian Democrat Party (6)
-- Radical Social Democrat Party (3)
-- Party for Democracy (3)

Alianza (17)

-- Independent Democratic Union (9)
-- National Renewal (8)

Independent (1)

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES (120)

Concertacion (65)

-- Socialist Party (15)
-- Christian Democrat Party (21)
-- Radical Social Democrat Party (7)
-- Party for Democracy (22)

Alianza (54)

-- Independent Democratic Union (34)
-- National Renewal (20)

Independent (1)

SANTIAGO 00002495 002 OF 002

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) The results of the congressional elections may
affect the presidential run-off election on January 15.
Concertacion's "victory" (a majority in both houses) may
unite the four Concertacion parties behind Bachelet and
prevent defections or abstentions from the center Christian
Democrats, something absolutely necessary if voters on the
right unite behind Sebastian Pinera. On the other hand,
there are some indications that centrist voters -- who might
otherwise vote for Bachelet -- may be uneasy with
Concertacion's congressional shift to the left, and might
instead vote for Pinera to provide a "check" on Concertacion
power.

6. (SBU) The Christian Democrats' poor showing in the
congressional elections could easily re-ignite the perennial
issue of the future of the Concertacion coalition, as the
Christian Democrats suffer an identity crisis. If Pinera
loses to Bachelet, it is likely the same issue will rise
within the Alianza. If the coalitions fail, it is likely
Chile's binomial electoral system would have to be revised,
as well.
KELLY

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