Cablegate: Chile's Presidential Hopefuls Jockey for Position


DE RUEHSG #1094/01 3471849
P 121849Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) Santiago 1028 B) 07 Santiago 1993 C) Santiago 24

Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: Ricardo Lagos's recent announcement that he will
not be running for president for the ruling center-left Concertacion
coalition has shifted the scenario for presidential hopefuls. While
the Christian Democrats (DC) and the Radical Social Democrats (PRSD)
have their candidates and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza
is the likely pick for the Socialist Party (PS), the Party for
Democracy (PPD) has not decided how to proceed with Lagos out of the
running. The probable scenario is an Insulza-Frei primary in April
while the conservative Alianza coalition's candidate will be
Sebastian Pinera. In the meantime, the presidential politicking is
already overshadowing the Bachelet administration, which will face
an uphill battle over the next year in terms of making gains in its
legislative agenda. End summary.

Lagos: Thanks, But No Thanks

2. (U) Former President Ricardo Lagos Escobar held a press
conference December 4 definitively announcing that he will not be
running in the 2009 presidential elections (now scheduled for
November 11), ending months of speculation in the press regarding
his potential participation. Lagos thanked those who had courted
him -- the Party for Democracy (PPD) openly declared their support
for him months ago despite his own insistence at the time that he
was not a candidate -- and criticized "some leaders" within the
governing coalition for not taking seriously enough the Concertacion
need for order and discipline. Lagos stated that he is available to
campaign for the eventual Concertacion candidate and "any other
tasks the Concertacion assigns me."

The Concertacion: We Need a Candidate Now!

3. (U) Lagos' "withdrawal" from the race generated renewed
jockeying for position among Concertacion hopefuls and speculation
regarding who will fill the Lagos void. Jose Miguel Insulza, OAS
Secretary General, has been dancing around his own plans to become
the Socialist Party (PS) candidate for months. Other coalition
parties have their candidates, even if they have not yet been
officially announced. Senator Jose Antonio Gomez of the Radical
Social Democrat Party (PRSD) and former President and Senator
Eduardo Frei of the Christian Democrats (DC) have both announced
their intent to represent their parties in a Concertacion primary.
Frei has already elaborated a platform which includes constitutional
reforms. (Note: The PRSD is the smallest Concertacion party and
won't have the votes to win a coalition primary. End note.) Lagos'
decision leaves the PPD to decide if it will run its own candidate
in a Concertacion primary or back one of the other coalition

4. (U) After Lagos' withdrawal, PS President Camilo Escalona and
other PS congressmen emphatically stated to the press that Jose
Miguel Inzulza should move back to Chile and officially declare his
candidacy as soon as possible, if he indeed intends to run. Deputy
Marcelo Schilling stated to the press on December 9 that "we have no
time left, all the deadlines have passed."

5. (U) The DC, still the largest Concertacion party despite deep
losses in the October municipal elections, is expected to officially
announce Eduardo Frei as its presidential candidate at or shortly
after its national party congress December 13. Meanwhile, the PPD's
general council meeting is not scheduled until January 16, just ten
days prior to the deadline for registering candidates in the
Concertacion primary.

Insulza Comes to Chile "To Talk"

6. (U) Upon arrival in Chile on December 11, OAS Secretary General
Jose Miguel Insulza declared to the press that he is ready to
participate in the Concertacion primary as long as he has the
support of both the PS and the PPD, but that "under other
circumstances, I'll have to see." In a separate television
interview on December 10 from Panama he stated that he wants to be
President of Chile, but that "ideally, for me, the Concertacion
should have a single candidate. I am going to talk to the PPD, the
PRSD, and the DC and see what possibilities for an agreement exist."
Concertacion parties agreed last month to hold primaries on April
26. Reacting to Insulza's statements, leaders of the PRSD and PPD
both rejected the idea of a consensus candidate, declaring to the
press that a Concertacion primary is "indispensable."
7. (U) When pressed about what may happen regarding his role at the
OAS, Insulza reportedly avoided putting any timeline on his possible
resignation as Secretary General and said he would make such
decisions "when appropriate." Resisting pressure to officially
declare his candidacy, he mentioned that, in 2005, the Concertacion
only defined its candidate in May, "so we are fine with the timing,
we can take the time to talk and discuss and have a dialogue among
the political actors."

The Opposition: Pinera or a Primary?

8. (U) National Renovation (RN) candidate Sebastian Pinera
continues to perform well in the latest polls -- where those
surveyed give him a landslide win against Frei or Insulza in the
first round if the election were to be held now. While the
Independent Democratic Union (UDI) has been slow to officially throw
its support behind their Alianza coalition partner, Pinera is likely
to get an additional boost if, as press reports on December 11
suggest, the UDI at its general meeting on December 12 officially
back Pinera as the Alianza's single candidate.

Meanwhile, On the Margins

9. (U) Not to be left out of the presidential candidate scramble,
President of the Senate Adolfo Zaldivar, who was expelled from the
DC in December 2007 (Ref B) also made statements to the press that
he will be running for president in 2009, most likely as the
candidate for the Regional Independent Party (PRI), a small party
that his supporters, all ex-DC known as "colorines" (Ref C), joined
earlier this year. Zaldivar will most certainly attract DC votes
away from the Concertacion candidate, but a Frei candidacy could
stem that tide.

10. (U) Another Senator, Alejandro Navarro, resigned from the PS in
November to run for President as the candidate for "We Can Do More,"
(JP) a coalition made up of the Communist Party, the Humanist Party
and other smaller leftist parties.

Doing the Math

11. In October's municipal elections PRI, JP and independents
together won over 18 percent of councilmember seats nationwide.
Their candidates could complicate the electoral scenario for the
Concertacion, leaving an opening for an Opposition win in the first
round. (Note: A candidate must win 50 percent plus one vote to win
in the first round. End note). However, in a run-off election, a
majority of the votes from these smaller parties and independents
would most likely go to the Concertacion candidate.

12. (SBU) Comment: The current jockeying for position among
Concertacion presidential hopefuls is considered political suicide
by some sectors of the Concertacion, who see a unified consensus
candidate and a disciplined coalition as the only recipe for success
in 2009 and the installation of a fifth Concertacion government.
However, others argue that primaries will provide more legitimacy,
mobilize voters and demonstrate that the Concertacion can renew
itself with fresh ideas. With the itinerary for a Concertacion
primary already set, it is unlikely that Insulza will manage to
become a consensus candidate. The probable scenario is an
Insulza-Frei primary in April while the Alianza's candidate will be
Sebastian Pinera. In the meantime, the presidential politicking is
already overshadowing the Bachelet administration, which will face
an uphill battle over the next year in terms of making gains in its
legislative agenda. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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