This is a significant development. The Concertación (center-left) has won a senate majority in Chile’s election today. The alliance has held the presidency and the lower-house majority continuously since the return to democracy in 1989, but the senate has had appointed members selected from among retired senior armed forces officers, supreme court judges, and other officials. These appointed senators gave the Senate a conservative bias for many years after the return to democracy, although in recent years the Concertación had been able to gain more support from among the appointees.
Earlier this year the appointed seats were removed entirely in a constitutional amendment, and today’s election thus marks the emergence of a fully elected Senate. Senators are elected to 8-year terms, and 20 of the 38 (in 10 of the 19 districts) were up for election this year.
As I explained in a pre-election post, congressional elections are held in two-seat districts in which the alliance with the most votes wins both seats only if it doubles the votes of the runner-up alliance list. Preliminary results show such “doblajes” in two districts in which previously the Concertación and the right-wing alliance each held one seat.
In one of these, Coquimbo, the Concertatción had 1.47 times the vote of the right-wing alliance in 1997, so it gained significantly in this election. (For the other doblaje there is a discrepancy between today’s El Mercurio story and the data from the 1997 election as to which district it would be.)
Because the lists are open (as also explained in the pre-election post), often the biggest threat to an incumbent comes from a listmate. This is especially so given that in any district that is not on the cusp of a doblaje, seats won’t swing from one alliance to the other; they will only swing, if at all, within an alliance.
Examples of intra-alliance defeat include Antofagasta, where a sitting Christian Democratic senator, Carmen Frei Ruiz-Tagle (daughter of the former president?), was defeated by a candidate of one of the smaller alliance parties, the Radicals. Frei had won 57% of the Concertación’s vote in the district in 1997, yet lost this time.
Also in Antofagasta, we can also see how the competition on the right for the presidency has spilled over into congressional races. In 1997, the right elected a senator, Carlos Cantero, in this district who had almost 73% of the right’s votes. This time, however, Cantero was up against a strong challenge from an RN deputy, whom Cantero only narrowly defeated.
(1997 data from Adam Carr.)