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Cablegate: With Pinera Victory, Post-Pinochet Voting Trends Are Broken

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTIAGO 000027

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TAGS: PGOV SOCI CI
SUBJECT: With Pinera Victory, Post-Pinochet Voting Trends are Broken

REF: 09 SANTIAGO 947; 10 SANTIAGO 50

1. (SBU) Summary: Sebastian Pinera's presidential election
victory on January 17 signaled the end of Chilean politics
dominated by the legacy of the Pinochet regime. The right--whom
many believed could not win a majority in a presidential
election--ran an excellent campaign and demonstrated cross-over
appeal to both Bachelet supporters and Marco Enriquez-Ominami
voters. While the Frei campaign did manage to consolidate their
support in the final month of the election, their efforts were too
little, too late. End summary.

Did the Concertacion Lose, or Did Pinera Win?

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

2. (SBU) At the Frei rally on election night, Concertacionistas
with long faces analyzed their first presidential loss. Christian
Democrat deputy Jorge Burgos summed up the collective mea culpa,
saying, "This was more a Concertacion loss than an Alianza
victory." Indeed, the Concertacion lost the presidency despite
President Bachelet's record high approval ratings and Frei's
history as the presidential candidate elected by the widest margin.
Progressive think tank director Maria de los Angeles Fernandez
believed that this day had been coming for some time. She told
Poloff January 21 that the Concertacion had been worn out since the
Lagos administration (2000-6), but that extremely popular president
Michelle Bachelet was "like an oxygen mask" that allowed the
coalition to remain in power for an additional four years.

3. (SBU) Nonetheless, it would be overly simplistic to attribute
the outcome solely to the Concertacion's missteps. Conservative
analyst and former Pinera campaign staffer Jose Miguel Izquierdo
argues fairly that it is inaccurate to assert that Pinera and his
team simply had the election handed to them. Izquierdo declared to
poloffs January 21 that the Pinera campaign constructed a political
identity for their candidate based on his openness to dialogue and
his "new consensus"--the acknowledgement by the right that there is
a role for the government to play in providing social services.
Indeed, Pinera ran a nearly error-free campaign, uniting the
previously fractious Alianza coalition even as he moved the group
to the center and backed progressive-friendly causes like
Bachelet's social safety net, civil unions for gay couples, and
greater access for the day-after contraceptive pill.

Crunching the Numbers: Frei Picked Up Steam, But Not Enough

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

4. (SBU) Despite the fact that the three progressive candidates
won 56% of the December 13 first round vote (versus Pinera's 44%),
Frei entered the final stretch of the campaign behind. Frei
himself had received just shy of 30% of the vote and, as the
embodiment of political continuity, faced an uphill battle winning
over supporters of independent Marco Enriquez-Ominami's pro-change
campaign (Ref A). (Note: Communist Party candidate Jorge Arrate's
supporters, who accounted for only 6% of the vote, were expected to
back Frei in large numbers. End Note.) A well-respected November
poll asked Enriquez-Ominami supporters for whom they would vote in
the runoff if their candidate was eliminated after the first round.
Thirty-nine percent said they would back Frei, 20% would back
Pinera, 33% would cast blank or spoilt ballots, and 8% were
undecided. Yet Frei needed support from 70% of Enriquez-Ominami's
voters, and all of Jorge Arrate's, in order to overcome Pinera's
lead and win the election. Many observers worried that record
numbers of voters would abstain or cast blank or spoilt ballots, an
outcome which would favor Pinera but, more importantly, reflect
that Chileans are fed up with politics in general.

5. (SBU) In the end, Frei did succeed in capturing many
Enriquez-Ominami voters, but not enough to win the election.

SANTIAGO 00000027 002 OF 002


(Pinera received 51.6% of all votes, compared to 48.4% for
Frei--see Ref B.) According to calculations by the El Mercurio
newspaper, in the second round 64% of Enriquez-Ominami voters
backed Frei, while 36% voted for Pinera. At 13%, the percentage of
registered voters who abstained (despite potential fines for
failure to vote) or cast null or blank ballots (3%) was only
slightly higher than in the 2005-6 presidential election.

6. (SBU) Comment: Chilean political observers have long asserted
that Chile has a static electorate. Large numbers of Chileans
registered to vote in the 1988 plebiscite on continued military
rule, but relatively few have registered since then, meaning that
it is largely the same group of voters that has been choosing the
country's elections for the last twenty years. Conventional wisdom
has been that Chilean voters don't change their political views,
[with those who voted against continued military rule (56%)
supporting Concertacion candidates, while those who voted for
continued military rule (44%) backing Alianza.] Pinera's
election--and in particular his ability to win votes from
progressive candidate Enriquez-Ominami--shows that Chile's voters
have moved beyond the politics of Pinochet and evaluate candidates
in light of the current political situation. End Comment.
URBAN

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