Cablegate: Chile's New Political Landscape

DE RUEHSG #0029/01 0272023
O 272023Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Chile's New Political Landscape


1. (SBU) Summary: The election of Sebastian Pinera as the next
Chilean president turns Chilean politics on its head. The
political entities that were created before and during the
transition from dictatorship to democracy--the center-left
Concertacion coalition and the center-right Alianza--have had the
same roles (Concertacion governing, Alianza opposing), and many of
the same faces, for twenty years. Now both political groups are
struggling to realign their parties, leadership, and alliances
given voters' shifting preferences. End Summary.

The Left in Disarray: Party Leaders Resign...

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2. (SBU) A week after their presidential defeat, Chile's
center-left is trying to figure out what went wrong, who was to
blame, and how to move forward. The Concertacion's two largest
political parties, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, are
the targets of most of the finger pointing. Marco
Enriquez-Ominami, Jorge Arrate, and Alejandro Navarro are all
former Socialists who left the party and ran presidential campaigns
which, to a greater or lesser degree, detracted from the
Concertacion presidential bid. Some blame the exclusionary
leadership style of Socialist party president Camilo Escalona for
encouraging these defections. Political insiders are also raising
questions about the future of the Christian Democrat party. Once
the largest and most powerful party in Chile, this centrist party
has lost much of its influence and many of its congressional seats
in recent years.

3. (SBU) In reaction to Concertacion candidate Eduardo Frei's poor
showing in the first round election on December 13 and his final
defeat in the runoff election on January 17, the leaders of all
four Concertacion parties have resigned (or offered to) in the last
month. The presidents of the two smallest parties, the Party for
Democracy (PPD) and Radical Social Democrats (PRSD) were the first
to do so, stepping down on December 30 in reaction to Frei's poor
performance in the first round election. Socialist party
president Camilo Escalona, who remained at the helm despite many
calls to resign following the disappointing first round election
results, finally resigned on January 23, along with the rest of the
Socialist party leadership. Christian Democrat president Juan
Carlos Latorre offered his resignation on January 23, though his
party's national council rejected his resignation.

...While Shifting Party Dynamics Open Possibilities for New
Parties, Movements, and Leaders...

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4. (SBU) Many progressives are talking about the need to
"re-found" the Chilean center-left coalition. There are many
theories about what form a new Chilean left could take, including:

--The creation of a more progressive political movement uniting
Enriquez-Ominami's supporters with the two smaller Concertacion
parties, the Party for Democracy (PPD) and Radical Social Democrats
(PRSD), and perhaps even the Communists.

--The creation of a "secular left" to include the Socialists, Party
for Democracy, Radical Social Democrats and possibly other elements
on the left, but without the religiously-based Christian Democrats.

--A smaller Christian Democrat party, that may be excluded from
new, more progressive groupings and could even find common cause
with the conservative Alianza coalition at times.

--A split in the Socialist party, with those loyal to Camilo
Escalona heading up one camp and those who support Ricardo Lagos
leading another.

SANTIAGO 00000029 002 OF 003

--"Re-founding" the big umbrella center-left movement, but with a
renewal process that will open up leadership positions to the next
generation of center-left politicians and codify open primaries to
select presidential candidates.

...and the Smallest Concertacion Party Makes and Quickly Aborts a
Pact with Alianza

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

5. (SBU) Meanwhile, on January 21, the leadership of two small
parties with roots in Chile's center-left formed a surprising pact
with the Alianza coalition that left Concertacionistas dumbfounded.
Neither the Alianza nor the Concertacion coalition had a majority
in the 120-member Chamber of Deputies, but the Alianza had a
plurality--58 seats to the Concertacion's 54 (reftel).
Nonetheless, many of the remaining eight deputies had ties to the
left, and so were expected to back the Concertacion much of the
time, including in the designation of parlamentary leadership. In
the surprising agreement -- which was later aborted -- the
smallest party in the Concertacion, the Radical Social Democrats
(PRSD), would have shared power over the Chamber with the Alianza
and another small party, the Independent Regional Party (PRI). The
agreement would have guaranteed the Alianza the right to lead the
Chamber of Deputies for three out of the next four years (two years
for the hard-right UDI party and one year for the center-right RN
party), while the PRI, a small, centrist party made up of defectors
from the Christian Democrats, would lead the Chamber for one year.
In return, a PRSD deputy would have served as vice president for
three of the next four years.

6. (SBU) Progressive leaders, including many members of the PRSD
party, were shocked by the deal. Christian Democrat deputy Pablo
Lorenzini described the deal as "treachery" and called for
President Bachelet to immediately eject the PRSD from the
Concertacion. The vice president of the Party for Democracy
derided the action as "collaborationism with the right" and said
that it signaled that the PRSD had lost its ethical footing. The
negative reaction within the PRSD was just as strong and, just
eight hours after the deal was announced, it was aborted and the
president of the PRSD, Fernando Meza resigned. Meza had led the
party for just 23 days. Jose Antonio Gomez, Meza's predecessor,
re-assumed the presidency. (Comment: Although the PRI also has
its roots in the Concertacion, their participation in the agreement
was less surprising and drew fewer comments. PRI politicians had
already signaled their political independence by leaving the
Concertacion, and are often regarded as motivated more by their
individual political careers than by allegiance to a political
ideology. At this time, it is not clear if the Alianza/PRI
agreement without the PRSD has enough votes to secure the
leadership positions, although there are several independents who
might support the agreement. End Comment.)

Who Will Lead the Left?


7. (SBU) There is also likely to be a battle over who will be "the
face of the new opposition left," with President Bachelet and
former president Ricardo Lagos likely contenders. In a speech
delivered immediately after Frei's concession speech -- and from
the same podium -- Lagos defended the Concertacion's achievements,
called for the left to open its leadership positions up to younger
politicians, and then declared that he was "available to help
construct a new Chile." After being criticized for what one
commentator termed "excessive protagonism," Lagos backed away from
his speech and said that his intentions were never to assert his
leadership over the Concertacion, but many remain unconvinced.
Meanwhile, President Bachelet has been more circumspect about her
future plans, but many believe that she will retain a large role in
Chile's center-left and is likely to run for president in 2014.

SANTIAGO 00000029 003 OF 003

On the Right, Even the Winners Face Possible Party Fractures

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

8. (SBU) Despite their electoral success, the right faces
political fractures as well, conservative analyst Jose Miguel
Izquierdo told Poloffs January 21. Pinera successfully moved
Alianza further to the center, which was critical in winning the
election, but this creates an existential crisis for the staunchly
conservative Democratic Union Party (UDI). The UDI is, by some
measures, the country's largest political party, controlling a full
third of seats in Congress, more than any other party. Some
politicians--such as Jose Antonio Kast, Rodrigo Alvarez, and Felipe
Ward--still cling to the very conservative Catholic vision of UDI
founder Jaime Guzman. Nonetheless, Izquierdo argues that the
majority of the party has become more centrist, pragmatic, and
secular, accepting Pinera's more moderate positions on civil unions
for homosexual couples and the "day after" contraceptive pill,
which are rejected by UDI traditionalists. It is unclear how
Chile's most conservative political leaders will react to their
party evolving away from its founder's ideals and towards
pragmatism and political moderation.

9. (SBU) Another large challenge for the center-right will be
staffing government positions and then, of course, implementing its
agenda. Maintaining balance between the various elements of his
coalition and (possibly) retaining some experienced second-tier
officials from the current government could create tensions for
Pinera. Defining policy priorities and the inevitable compromises
that are part of governing could be another source of tension.
Part of the center-right's success in this election was its
impressive unity behind Pinera, but that could be tested as it
moves on to governing.

10. (SBU) Comment: Chilean politics, and especially the
Concertacion, has often been described in recent years as stale,
boring, and inflexible. Despite frequent public conversations
about how to renew and refresh the political system, include
younger leaders in prominent roles, encourage young people to vote,
and battle small-scale corruption, the political system seemed to
be frozen in place. Pinera's election has shattered this calcified
system. Change is coming, though what form it will take is not yet
clear. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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