Monday, January 18, 2010

A return to 1970?

Sebastian Piñera has been elected as Chile’s next president. For the first time since democracy returned in 1989 the Right has finally managed to win a majority share of the vote. Alongside the expected internal criticism within the centre-left Concertación coalition and demands for the heads of the Christian Democrat and Socialist parties to resign, questions will be asked about the ability of the centre-right Alianza coalition parties to work together in Congress with an ideologically similar president.

Piñera and the Right have been getting closer to electoral victory has been some time coming. Following first round defeats in 1989 and 1993, it was able to push the centre-left into second rounds in 2000, 2006 and 2010.

But what already seems to be overlooked in the Chilean media is the effect that abstentions and electoral registration may have played in the result. Since 1989 both figures have been in decline, with yesterday’s poll the lowest yet with around 87% of voters voting and 67.5% of the voting age population registered respectively. In 1989 the turnout was 94.5% and fell to 91.3% in 1993, 90.6% in 2000 and 87.1% in 2006 while registered voters fell from 88.5% in 1993 to 79.2% in 2000 and 71.9% in 2006.

That voting turnout and registered voters have fallen may well be due in part to growing public disillusion with the Concertación-dominated government of the past two decades. The coalition will therefore no doubt spend the next few months reviewing why that is and how they might reconnect with the public, especially as the education and Trassantiago protests and demonstrations during the last presidency demonstrate.

But while they do that they might also spare a thought for the last time that Chilean politics took such an electoral re-direction – then to the Left. Following the highly turbulent 1960s and deep antipathy between the Left, Centre and Right, Salvador Allende’s election as president in 1970 was achieved with a similarly low turnout of 83.7%. In the years that followed until the 1973 coup, opponents claimed that Allende did not have a sufficient mandate and failed to represent the population sufficiently. One can only wonder whether similar yardstick will be applied to Piñera.

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