SANTIAGO, Chile – Former leader Sebastián Piñera won the first round of presidential elections in Chile but now faces an uphill battle as a fractured center-left looks to unite and prevent him from returning to the Moneda presidential palace.
With no internal competition and a fractured camp on the other side of the ideological spectrum, Piñera has consistently held the lead in the presidential polls before the election and as expected, he finished in first place
What was unexpected, however, was the margin of victory; in the Piñera camp, there were hopes of even an outright victory in the first round but this threshold was not reached. Furthermore, what was even more unexpected was how minimal the difference was between the second and third placed candidates.
Piñera, a billionaire businessman who led Chile from 2010 to 2014 on behalf of the center-right National Renewal (and the conservative Alliance for Chile coalition) and left office with very low approval numbers, finished first with 36 percent of the vote.
In this election, the conservative coalition, which is now called Chile Vamos (Let’s Go, Chile), fully backed Piñera as he was the only viable candidate given his standing as the most prominent politician of the center-right.
While Piñera postured himself as the top figure of the opposition, he was handed a favor by the ruling center-left to left-wing New Majority. The coalition showed very little support to center-left Party of Democracy (PPD) man Ricardo Lagos, another former president (2000-2006) and highly respected political figure, and Lagos retired his candidacy.
Instead, the New Majority decided to throw most of its support behind Alejandro Guillier, a respected journalist and radio/television political commentator (and Senator since 2014) that is technically an independent but is allied with the center-left Social Democrat Radical Party.
Given Piñera’s name recognition and coalition support, the withdrawal of Lagos and incumbent Michelle Bachelet’s low approval rating, Guillier was expected to finish in a very distant second place. He did, indeed, finish in second but with a respectable 22 percent of the vote.
The surprise of the day was independent journalist Beatriz Sánchez, allied with the left-wing Broad Front coalition, a group of parties that decided to break with the New Majority. Sánchez finished in third place with 20 percent of the vote, which meant that the outsider was only two percentage points away from the run-off round.
There was another surprising result as José Antonio Kast, a lawyer and Deputy for the right-wing Independent Democratic Union, finished in fourth place with just under 8 percent. Kast, who comes from a political family, ran as an unaffiliated independent and is known as the Chilean Donald Trump, noted for his controversial and ignorant discourse.
With just under 6 percent of the vote, Carolina Goic finished in a disappointing fifth. Goic, the head of the centrist/third-way Chilean Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and Senator for the southern Magallanes region. Goic was nominated for the presidential election by the PDC after the party left the New Majority coalition after 28 years.
In sixth place with just under 6 percent of the vote (and just 10,000 votes less than Goic) was Marco Enríquez-Ominami, the head of the center-left Progressive Party (PRO). The party, led by Enríquez-Ominami, is another left-leaning party not affiliated with the New Majority.
Eduardo Artés, a teacher that belongs to the left-wing Patriotic Union and Alejandro Navarro of the left-wing País, finished 7th and 8th, respectively, with both failing to reach one percent.
Given these results, it seems that Piñera is going from the big winner in the first round to a potential loser in the run-off: given that he won 36 percent of the vote and that Kast, who had 8 percent, is practically the only other candidate that will throw his support behind him, Piñera is looking at a count of about 45 percent for the run-off.
On the other hand, Guillier, with his 22 percent in the first round, is confident of securing the support of all the other candidates from the first round. If he manages to do so, Guillier will likely count on support from about 48 or 49 percent of the electorate.
Of coure, the amount of support either candidate will receive is speculative for now and is liable to change by December 17, when the run-off vote is scheduled to take place. What is certain, however, is that Piñera’s seemingly simple return to the presidency just became much more complicated.