Piñera Poised for Victory in Chile

Sebastián Vivallo Oñate / Agencia Makro / LatinContent / Getty Images
Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera gives a speech after being proclaimed presidential candidate by right-wing parties for the 2017 Chilean Presidential Elections in Santiago, Chile.

On Sunday, November 19th, Chile will hold its presidential election. The Chilean constitution restricts the president from serving two consecutive terms, so the current president, Michelle Bachelet, held office from 2006 to 2010, and then from 2014 to today. President Sebastián Piñera held the office from 2010 to 2014, and he is now running in this year’s election, currently leading the polls.

At the turn of the century, South America experienced a “pink tide” of left-wing politicians. In 2010, Piñera broke a 20-year streak of liberal Presidents in Chile, becoming the first conservative leader since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990.

A businessman with a net worth of $2.7 billion, Piñera first made his money by introducing credit cards to Chile in the 1980’s. He has since branched out, investing in Chile’s principal airline, Lan Chile, and the country’s biggest soccer club, Colo Colo. Piñera has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump, due to his outgoing personality and celebrity-like demeanor. While running for his first term in 2010, Piñera often discussed how he planned to apply his expertise in business to running the nation’s government. 

On October 22, a vote was held amongst a group of right-leaning parties in Chile, and 53% of voters supported Piñera. This victory solidified his front-runner status in the general election on November 19, as the left has not united behind one candidate. 

Chile has one of most stable economies in South America, which in large part was built during Piñera’s first presidency. As a result, Piñera’s campaign has the support of many Chilean business leaders. Current President Bachelet, a socialist, has enacted a series of economic reforms, which many critics claim has de-incentivized investment. 

Although Piñera helped the economy significantly, many social groups continue to oppose him. Throughout his first term, many students protested against the Chilean educational system. His administration’s response to the protests was seen as disconnected, strengthening these social groups’ case against his current candidacy.

If no candidate receives 50% of the vote in the general election, a run-off between the top two will occur. If this happens, and if the currently divided left unify around a candidate, the race is expected to be much closer. 

Recently, a new candidate emerged from the left-wing parties: ex-T.V. anchor, senator, and moderate liberal Alejandro Guillier. Senator Guillier has gone from 1% to 14% approval in the polls during the last few months. His rise to prominence has also reflected a decline of support for President Bachelet’s socialism. Intellectuals believe that President Bachelet overestimated the support for socialism, and that it was her personality, not her policies, which won her the election in 2013. 

Further, President Bachelet’s son, Sebastian Davalos, was embroiled in a real-estate scandal.  He used his connections to take out a loan of $10 million to buy land in the name of a company of which he is a partial owner. Although President Bachelet was not directly involved, her approval rating dropped to 31%.

The corruption scandal also contradicted one of the primary objectives of her presidency: to foster equal opportunity for all Chileans. Her son’s actions seemed extremely hypocritical to that core goal. Senator Guillier has attempted to separate himself from many of the policies and actions of President Bachelet, but the polls still overwhelmingly favor Piñera.  

The decline of Bachelet and the weakening of the socialist movement has set Piñera up for a win in November, and the return of conservatism to Chile.