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Cablegate: Chile's Election Results: Conservatives Win Symbolic

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CI
SUBJECT: Chile's Election Results: Conservatives Win Symbolic
Victories--and Seats--in Congress

REF: A. SANTIAGO 432; B. SANTIAGO 933; C. SANTIAGO 448

1. (SBU) Summary: For the first time in 20 years, the Chile's
center-right coalition, Alianza, won more seats in Congress than
did the governing center-left coalition, Concertacion. Despite
this symbolic loss, the overall balance in Congress did not change
dramatically. The Concertacion regained its majority in the Senate
and may be able to cobble together a plurality in the lower house
with smaller parties and independents. Other notable changes
included more than doubling the number of women senators, the
election of Communist Party candidates for the first time in nearly
40 years, and the defeat of several old-time political heavyweights
by younger (but well-connected) challengers. End summary.

Political Power Shifts to the Right After Congressional Elections

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
----------------

2. (SBU) Due to its unique and complicated binomial electoral
system (explained in Ref A), figuring out which political forces
won and lost congressional elections in Chile is not simple.
Chilean observers often look at three metrics when assessing the
performance of political parties and coalitions in Chile's
congressional elections: the total number of seats each coalition
has in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the total number of
ballots cast for conservative vs. progressive congressional
candidates, and the number of districts in which a political
coalition was able to "double," i.e. win both of the Senate or
Chamber seats assigned to a district. By these standards, Chile's
conservative coalition, Alianza, gained over the center-left
Concertacion coalition that has dominated Chilean politics for the
last twenty years.

3. The battle for seats in Congress: This was essentially a draw,
with each coalition winning an advantage in one of the Chilean
parliament's two houses. In the Senate, where half of the 38 seats
were up for election, the Concertacion regained a slim majority and
will begin the new legislative season with 19 seats vs. 17 for
Alianza. (The remaining two seats are filled by independents.) In
the Chamber, where all 120 seats were up for election, the Alianza
came out on top with 58 candidates elected vs. 54 for the
Concertacion. (Of the remaining 8 seats, Communists won 3 seats,
Independent Regionalist Party candidates won 3 seats, and
independents won 2 seats.) Nonetheless, because the Concertacion
has traditionally had a majority in both houses, their middling
performance this year is viewed as a decline from their dominance
in previous elections. Alianza's new plurality in the Chamber of
Deputies is particularly significant, given that the Concertacion
has held the majority in the lower house continuously since
military rule ended in 1989. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen
how voting patterns will develop in the lower house, as most of the
independent or smaller party deputies hail from the political left
and may vote with the Concertacion most of the time.

4. Total number of ballots cast nationwide for Concertacion vs.
Alianza candidates for the Chamber of Deputies: Given the unusual
biases of the binomial system, this is typically seen as a purer
representation of the political leanings of Chilean voters than are
the results of the elections. (A similar comparison is typically
not done for the Senate race. Because only half of the Senate
seats are contested each year, not all Chileans cast a senatorial
ballot, whereas every voter votes for a member of the lower house
in each congressional election.) This year Concertacion candidates
received 44% of all votes cast in Chamber of Deputies races, while
Alianza candidates received 43% of all votes. The remaining 13%


were divided among independents and smaller political coalitions.
This represents a dramatic drop in support for the Concertacion,
since in the 2005 congressional election the center-left coalition
received 52% of all votes cast vs. 39% for Alianza.

5. The "doubling" metric: Chile's most unique metric of political
strength is the number of districts where one political coalition
was able to "double" or win both Senate or both Chamber seats in a
single district--an indication that the coalition is very strong in
that region. (As Ref A explains, Chile's binomial election system
makes this achievement very difficult, often requiring that a
single political coalition receive 2/3 of votes in that district in
order to win both seats.) The Concertacion headed into this
election with six districts where it had doubled, compared to just
one doubled district for the Alianza. However, in a significant
upset, the Concertacion lost its double representation in all six
of these districts, while the Alianza managed to retain its doubled
district, the wealthy eastern suburbs of Santiago.

An Unexpected Number of New Faces and Women

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

6. (U) The biggest surprise in this election was not the overall
balance of power in Congress but rather the electorate's enthusiasm
for new faces over incumbents. Out of 120 seats, voters elected 45
new parliamentarians to the Chamber of Deputies, many of whom
defeated very experienced and well-known politicians. Emblematic
politicians who were defeated by younger, less experienced
challengers include two-time conservative presidential candidate
Joaquin Lavin, Chamber of Deputies President Rodrigo Alvarez, and
three-term progressive Senator Jaime Gazmuri. On the other hand,
many in Chile have been calling for a political renewal that would
expand political participation to include a younger generation and
more average citizens as opposed to the political elite. These new
parliamentarians are hardly a response to that call: many of them
come from well-known political families, and the average age of all
members of the new Chamber of Deputies is 50 years old.

7. Seven newly elected women, three in the Senate and four in the
Chamber, were included in this rush of new faces. The number of
women in the Senate went from two to five, while the number of
women in the Chamber remained steady at 17. While these numbers
are still fairly low--women will make up 13% of all Senators and
14% of all Deputies--it is encouraging that the number of women in
the Senate more than doubled and that several younger,
less-experienced women were able to enter Congress for the first
time. Prior to this election, Chile had the lowest rate of women
in Congress of any South American country, an unfortunate
distinction it has hopefully lost.

A First Since 1973 - Communist Candidates Elected to Congress

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
----------------

8. (U) In a historic (though not unexpected) change, the
Communist Party will be represented in congress for the first time
since 1973. Thanks to a controversial cooperation agreement with
the Concertacion (Refs B and C), Communist candidates won three
seats in the Chamber of Deputies. While the Communists are pleased
to be represented for the first time in more than 25 years, the
expected benefits for the Concertacion did not come to fruition.
The Concertacion-Communist slates did not manage to "double" in any


of the districts where Communist deputies were elected. While the
Communists are not officially part of the Concertacion, it is
expected that they will most likely vote with that center-left
coalition.

Comment

-------------

9. (SBU) Reading the political tea leaves in Chile is not easy,
particularly when one is looking at complicated congressional races
which can by analyzed from a number of angles. However, the
overall picture is clear: the center-left Concertacion took some
symbolically important hits which show that it is not the
powerhouse it once was. (A finding confirmed in the presidential
race, where conservative candidate Sebastian Pinera had a very
strong showing.) On the other hand, Alianza's biggest victories
were largely symbolic rather than any substantial change in the
balance of power. The two coalitions have roughly equal power in
Congress, and so will need to work together and persuade
independents to join with them in order to pass legislation.
Regardless of whether Eduardo Frei or Sebastian Pinera wins the
presidency, Chile's next leader will have to work harder than in
the past to ensure congressional support for his legislative
agenda, and any laws requiring more than a simple majority will
require substantial negotiation. End Comment.
SIMONS

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