Cablegate: Sebastian Pinera Wins Chilean Presidential Election

DE RUEHSG #0050/01 0180128
O R 180126Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Sebastian Pinera Wins Chilean Presidential Election

REF: A 09 SANTIAGO 755; B 09 SANTIAGO 867; C 09 SANTIAGO 1208

1. (U) Summary: In a historic January 17 election, Chilean voters
selected opposition candidate Sebastian Pinera as the next
president of Chile. Pinera, a Harvard-educated business tycoon
from the center-right National Renewal party, will be the first
conservative to lead Chile since the Pinochet dictatorship from
1973-1990 and the first conservative to be democratically elected
president since 1958. Both Pinera and his rival, former Chilean
president Eduardo Frei, are political centrists who promised to
continue many of President Bachelet's popular social policies.
Nonetheless, Pinera effectively portrayed himself as the candidate
of change, capitalizing on growing dissatisfaction with twenty
years of Concertacion rule. End Summary.

The Results Are In: Pinera 52%, Frei 48%

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

2. (U) Eduardo Frei, the presidential candidate from the ruling
center-left Concertacion coalition, conceded Chile's presidential
election to his opponent, business tycoon Sebastian Pinera, shortly
before 7 pm local time. At 6 pm, preliminary election results,
based on reports from 60% of polling stations, showed Pinera with a
four point lead. Election results reflecting more than 99% of
ballots, released at 7:45 pm, showed Pinera receiving 51.61% of the
vote, compared to 48.38% for Frei.

Pinera Victory Speech: Promises to Tackle Unemployment, Crime,

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

3. (U) In his victory speech at 9:45 pm local time, Pinera told
his supporters that "better times are coming" and promised to work
for Chileans who "dream and fight for better, happier, and fuller
lives for their families." He promised that his government would
"do things better" than previous governments, including creating
jobs; fighting crime and drug trafficking; protecting the integrity
of families; strengthening education; and improving the lives of
vulnerable citizens, the middle class, and older adults. Pinera
promised a create a strong governing team, choosing the most
qualified and committed candidates for government jobs, staying
attentive to citizens' concerns, and creating a culture of doing
work well. Speaking to a largely Catholic country that has been
ruled for the past four years by an agnostic, Pinera's speech was
peppered with religious references, including thanking God for the
Chilean homeland and a promise to build the new administration on a
foundation of rock rather than sand. Pinera was conciliatory and
gracious in his victory speech and in a joint appearance with Frei,
congratulating his rival on a race well won, emphasizing the desire
to work together, and calling for a constructive opposition to
discuss legitimate differences and serve as a watchdog.

Frei's Concession Speech Praises Chile's Democracy, Call for

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

4. (U) In his concession speech just before 7pm, Eduardo Frei
praised Chile's strong democracy and described the election process
as "clean and transparent." He said that he was proud of the
Concertacion's achievements and called on progressives to maintain
their unity and to continue their work of building a more equal and
inclusive country. Frei also said that he would continue on as a
senator (he has four years left in his term) and would become part
of the "constructive opposition." President Bachelet made a

SANTIAGO 00000050 002 OF 003

televised congratulatory phone call to Pinera, also emphasizing the
fairness of the elections. During the cordial conversation, Pinera
asked Bachelet for her advice and support during his term and the
two agreed to meet on Monday, January 18.

Chile's Historic Election: Pinera Ends 20 Years of Center-Left

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

5. (U) Pinera's election is a historic change for Chile. The
Concertacion coalition, made up of the Christian Democrat,
Socialist, Party for Democracy, and Radical Social Democrat
parties, has held the presidency continuously since Chile's return
to democracy in 1990. In fact, the Concertacion was born of the
effort to end the Pinochet military dictatorship. It was
originally formed in the late 1980s to lobby Chileans to vote "no"
in the 1988 plebiscite on whether military rule should be extended.
The "No" campaign was successful, and as the inheritor of this
success, the Concertacion has ruled Chile continuously from 1990
until today. The center-right opposition coalition, Alianza, has
been associated with the military government in the minds of many
Chileans. However, Pinera himself is a centrist who voted against
continued military rule in the 1988 vote. In fact, Pinera has
emphasized that he wants to continue President Bachelet's popular
policies, so this moment is significant for its symbolic importance
more than for any expected dramatic policy changes. The expected
peaceful transfer of power from progressives to conservatives will
conclusively demonstrate that Chilean politics have normalized
after two decades political discourse calcified around who
supported and opposed the Pinochet regime.

6. (U) Frustration with the Concertacion had been building in
Chile for some time. Despite the coalition's obvious success in
developing Chile's infrastructure and encouraging economic growth,
many Chileans felt that their political system was stagnant and
dominated by a small number of people who had rotated through
different positions in successive governments. A number of
low-level corruption scandals also hurt the ruling coalition.
Pinera campaigned on a platform of change with
continuity--maintaining many of President Bachelet's very popular
social policies but with a new team leading the country. One
Pinera advisor described this as "new faces but the same policies."

7. (SBU) Pinera, a 60-year-old business tycoon ranked number 701
on Forbes' list of wealthy individuals, is a centrist who has run
an excellent campaign, in contrast to the lackluster and
uncoordinated effort of his rival, Eduardo Frei. (See Ref A for a
profile of Pinera.) Pinera, a former Fulbright scholar, earned a
PhD in Economics at Harvard and was instrumental in introducing the
first credit cards to Chile in the 1980s. Pinera's net worth is
estimated at USD 1 billion. He currently owns 100% of the
Chilevision television station, 27% of LAN airlines, and 13% of the
very popular Colo Colo soccer team. Pinera, a member of the
center-right National Renewal party, served as Senator from
1990-1998 and as president of his party from 2001-4. Pinera made a
short-lived attempt at the presidency in 1992, until a recording of
him conspiring with a journalist to corner another presidential
candidate during a television show was made public (Ref B). Pinera
made a more successful bid for the presidency in 2004, coming in
third with 25% of the vote.

Pinera Led After First Round Elections December 13

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

8. (U) Four candidates ran in the December 13 first round
presidential election, which was held simultaneously with
congressional elections. Eduardo Frei, who is both a former
president (1994-2000) and the son of a former president, was the

SANTIAGO 00000050 003 OF 003

government's candidate, but was seen as emblematic of Chile's
stagnant politics. Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a 36-year-old
parliamentarian with a tragic past and some fairly radical
political ideas, ran a surprisingly effective independent campaign,
but failed to advance to the runoff election. The fourth
candidate, Jorge Arrate, is a former minister who described himself
as an "Allendista socialist" and ran on a ticket supported by the
Green and Communist parties.

9. (U) No candidate received a majority of votes in the first
round of the presidential election, which was held on December 13.
Pinera won 44% of the vote, compared to Frei's 29%,
Enriquez-Ominami's 20%, and 6% for leftist candidate Jorge Arrate
(Ref C). While this result gave Pinera a commanding lead, it also
meant that the three representatives of the center-left--Frei,
Enriquez-Ominami, and Arrate--together captured more than 56% of
the vote. Both Pinera and Frei targeted Enriquez-Ominami voters
during the month following the first round but, as in much of the
rest of the campaign, the Pinera team moved more quickly and
expertly in winning over their support. Enriquez-Ominami
half-heartedly endorsed Eduardo Frei last week, but explicitly left
his supporters free to vote their consciences.

Voting Conditions--Free and Fair


10. (U) Press accounts reported that voting was orderly throughout
the country. Most voting booths opened between 7 am and 8 am, and
stayed open for nine hours or until everyone registered to vote at
that booth had done so. Citizen election workers, called "vocales
de la mesa," ran the voting booths, while military personnel
guarded polling stations and police directed traffic. Political
party representatives were allowed to be present at voting
stations, and many attended the vote count, conducted at each
voting booth when the polls closed. In Chile, voter registration is
voluntary, but all registered voters are legally required to vote.
Men and women cast ballots in separate polling stations.

11. (U) The press covered the voting extensively during the day,
drawing attention to the few irregularities which occurred, such as
the closure and possible nullification of votes cast at a special
polling station designed for voters with disabilities (according to
the law, such voters should cast their ballots at their regularly
assigned polling station), a small number of citizens who refused
to serve as election workers, and pro-Pinera graffiti found inside
one polling booth. As polls closed, TV and radio stations provided
live coverage of the vote count in some districts. Chileans also
provided a constant stream of election news via Twitter, reporting
long lines, traffic jams, and other minor issues.

12. (SBU) Comment: Sebastian Pinera is a shrewd, hardworking
politician and businessman committed to continuing Chile's economic
stability and its strong relationship with the United States. As a
centrist, Pinera was often pushed to the left to support President
Bachelet's very popular social policies during the campaign.
However, he also owes his election to votes from the right, and it
will be particularly interesting to see how Pinera maintains his
promise of continuity while keeping the other party of his Alianza
coalition, the far right Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party,
happy as well. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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