SANTIAGO, Chile – The left-wing Broad Front coalition, a new group of parties whose candidate finished in a surprising third place in last month’s election, said they will let their followers decide individually whether to throw their votes behind Alejandro Guillier, the left-leaning candidate facing conservative Sebastián Piñera in the run-off.
On November 19, former leader Sebastián Piñera won the first round of the presidential election in Chile but now faces an uphill battle as the fractured center-left looked 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.
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 he has only the support of José Antonio Kast, a controversial lawyer and Deputy for the right-wing Independent Democratic Union who received 8 percent, 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, was 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 taking into consideration his own votes, the support of the Broad Front, Carolina Goic (the head of the centrist/third-way Chilean Christian Democratic Party) and her six percent and finally, another six percent from Marco Enríquez-Ominami, the head of the center-left Progressive Party (PRO).
With that unexpectedly large chunk of the electorate, all eyes have been on the Broad Front since the first round as they waited to announce their decision. They finally revealed their intentions this week after a period of “internal discussion” among the 14 parties and movements that comprise the coalition.
As expected, the Broad Front avoided directly expressing its support for Guillier. “We are not the owners of the votes of our followers and as such, we call upon them to express themselves at the ballot boxes in accordance with their own convictions and beliefs,” the coalition said in a statement read by Sánchez.
In the prepared text, there is no outright mention of Guillier himself. Instead, there are phrases that refer to no direct backing of a candidate because of “disagreements or ambiguities concerning fundamental issues” and also “in the interest of the Broad Front’s autonomy.”
What is included, however, is a passage concerning the former leader: “A victory for Sebastián Piñera would represent a national setback marked by more inequality and exclusion and less rights and liberties, measures that will directly go against the demands we hear day by day on the streets of Chile.”
Guillier, knowing the need for support from the Frente Amplio and its followers, has tried to clear up some of the “ambiguities concerning fundamental issues” raised by the nascent group.
The candidate has insisted in recent days that he would consider some proposals put forth by the Frente Amplio, including pardoning student loan debt and placing more emphasis in reducing extreme poverty. He has not, however, issued a statement yet concerning the Frente Amplio’s wish for the abolition of Chile’s Pension Fund Administration, the private pension system that is a holdover of Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship.
Guillier, in his act to reach out, said that his campaign is “not negotiating for anything here.” He continued: “We are not seeking positions, agreements or any sort of coalition within anybody’s government, nor are we winking at the Frente Amplio. We are simply asking for support in bringing in the people who support the changes and reforms we are seeking.”
In differing with the Frente Amplio, the coalition’s now-former presidential candidate Sánchez used much clearer language: “As for my personal decision, my vote is against Sebastián Piñera and for this reason, I will be voting for Guillier in the run-off round,” she said in a separate statement.
Sánchez repeated that her decision is “personal” and that regardless of who the victor is in the run-off round, the Frente Amplio will still officially be in the opposition.
The amount of support either candidate will receive is still speculative for now and is liable to change by December 17 when the run-off vote is scheduled to take place. The result is expected to be very narrow and the results will be scrutinized closely.
According to a political panel by Emol, the online portal of leading Chilean daily El Mercurio, the electorate is practically set on a candidate at this point and there remains only a tiny portion that is still undecided.