Chile’s presidential election (first round) is Sunday. The contest is particularly interesting, because there is an “outsider” candidate, Marco Enriquez-Ominami (ME-O),* who is splitting the center-left vote ahead of the first round. As the BBC describes him:
A hyperactive 36-year-old filmmaker with only a few years of political experience under his belt and no party affiliation, no-one gave him a chance when he announced his candidacy.
Chile’s politics since the end of the military regime have been dominated by two big multi-party alliances, and so far the center-left Concertacion has won every election.
ME-O is not likely to be the ultimate winner (or even to advance to a runoff), but he has shaken up the contest.
He says the ruling centre-left coalition, the Concertacion, has run out of steam after 20 years in power, and Chile needs a new constitution and a new electoral system. Both date from the years of military rule under Pinochet.
Mr Enriquez-Ominami has also challenged the established candidates on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, issues which – in a country regarded as among the most conservative and Catholic in Latin America – are seldom discussed during election campaigns.
The mainstream candidates are, for the Concertacion, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei (a former president seeking a comeback following two consecutive presidencies from the Socialist Party) and, from the conservative opposition alliance, Sebastian Pinera (running for the second time).
A previous comment by Eduardo Olivares provides much useful background. As Eduardo notes, this is an interesting parallel with the 2005 election, when it was the center-right that split and had two candidates in the first round.
It will be very interesting to see what impact the presence of two presidential candidates competing for the center-left vote has on the concurrent legislative elections. In 2005, on the right, we saw the very unusual situation of two parties presenting separate presidential candidates while allied for the legislature. This time, of course, the third candidate is an independent rather than an affiliate of one of the allied parties; I assume he does not have his own legislative lists, but I hope someone can confirm that. (With Chile’s 2-seat districts and D’Hondt open-list PR, one of the main political tendencies being split for legislative races would be catastrophic, because it potentially would allow the other bloc of parties to double the votes of the runner-up in many districts and thus win both seats. Given the runoff, on the other hand, there is little cost to splitting in the presidential race. Perhaps as a result we have a new trend in Chilean elections.)
In 2005, the combined coattails of two candidates from the right was not helpful in the legislative races: The two candidates combined for 48.6% of the first-round presidential vote, but their common Deputies ticket did not even reach 40%. How will the coattails effect work for the center-left candidates in 2009?
The presidential runoff, if necessary–as it surely will be–is scheduled for 17 January.
* Not an “outsider” in the sense that Samuels and Shugart (2010) understand that term (where it means a candidate who has not served in the national party for which he or she is running), as ME-O is a legislator. However, he is running from outside of the Concertacion coalition that encompasses most of Chile’s left (as well as the Christian Democrats).
Note: I expect to be off line Sunday and through at least the first half of the week, so I shall rely on visiting propagators to keep the orchard tended for that time.