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LatAm in Focus: Chilean Voters "Are Not Looking for Pure, Perfect Politicians"

Chile holds primaries on July 2. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

June 22, 2017

It’s election season in Chile, marking the start of a long electoral cycle across some 10 Latin American countries voting for president from now until the end of 2018. Chile’s first-round vote isn’t until November 19, but presidential hopefuls are already prepping ahead of the July 2 primary. So far a dozen candidates have stated their intention to run, with just two leading the polls by a wide margin: former President Sebastián Piñera and the journalist-turned-Senator Alejandro Guillier.

“My perception is the first-round vote in November is really a vote for second place,” political scientist and New York University Professor Patricio Navia told AS/COA Online’s Elizabeth Gonzalez. Navia was referring to the uncertainty about who will be the leading left-leaning coalition. While Piñera’s experience overseeing Chile’s economic boom between 2010 and 2014 makes him the obvious conservative choice backed by the Chile Vamos coalition, the left-wing coalition Nueva Mayoría has yet to officially declare its own candidate. Instead, Guillier faces competition from various leaders of the individual center-left parties that make up Nueva Mayoría, namely from the Christian Democrat’s Carolina Goic. At the end of the day though, it’s understood that the left-wing candidate that doesn’t place in the first-round vote will back the one that does, said Navia.

People may be somewhat discontent with the elites but not as discontent as to vote for an outsider candidate.

As such, the left-right competition will fall in line with Chile’s typical election cycle. What’s different this time around is the top concern on voters’ minds. With the end of the commodity boom and a slow-growing economy, Chileans are more worried about creating new wealth than addressing inequality—a subject that dominated previous elections. So they want the right person for the job, with a proven record, not necessarily “pure, perfect politicians,” Navia said. That gives Piñera the advantage, according to the Chilean analyst, despite the billionaire having faced conflict-of-interest and corruption allegations in the past.

“Voters would prefer a candidate who’s clean and has a clean track record and can manage the economy well,” says Navia. “But if they are offered two options, one clean candidate with no experience managing the economy and a candidate who’s been tainted by corruption accusations but also has a proven experience managing the economy, they will choose the latter.”