Chile 2021: Presidential first round and congress

On 21 November, Chile held its first round presidential contest and elections for both chambers of congress. These elections come in the context of the ongoing process of a constitutional assembly, and thus are critical inasmuch as they elect the authorities who will be responsible for implementing the new constitution (assuming the assembly agrees on a text that is then approved by referendum). The outcome confirms the considerable fragmentation already apparent in the elections for the assembly itself earlier this year.

The presidential election is sending two candidates to the runoff that together won just over half the votes. In the lead coming out of the first round is José Antonio Kast, on 27.8%, followed by Gabriel Boric on 25.8%. The third place candidate was well back, on 12.80%, with another on 12.79%, the fifth place finisher on 11.6%, and two more rounding out the field. That is some considerable fragmentation.

It is a striking collapse of the center, as Kast is well to the right and Boric well to the left. It is pretty much the nightmare scenario for two-round majority election. While the runoff will require the winner to tack to the center to win, the occupant of the chief executive’s office will be quite extreme, whoever wins the runoff. He will then have to construct alliances in a fragmented congress, with whatever powers are granted in a new constitution.

The congressional outcome is so complex that I am not going to attempt to break it down in much detail. You can see the results for Deputies and Senators on the SERVEL website, or with helpful color coding by party and alliance on the Wikipedia page. In the Chamber of Deputies, the largest single party appears to be National Renewal (RN) with just 25 of the 155 seats. By alliance, the largest is Chile Podemos Más (of which RN is a part), with 53. This is a center-right combine associated with outgoing President Sebastián Piñera. (This alliance also has the most seats in the constitutional assembly elected in May, but that is just 37 of 155.) The alliance supporting Kast, Chritian Social Front, has a mere 15 Deputies in the newly elected Chamber. It won 11.2% of the vote, or about 40% of the vote its presidential candidate obtained–lots of ticket-splitting there. The alliance supporting Boric, Apruebo Dignidad, did a little better, with 37 seats (it has 28 in the constitutional assembly). It won 20.9% of the votes, which is 81% of its presidential candidate’s vote. The biggest party comprising this alliance is the Communist Party, which won 12 seats.

Needless to say, further alliance-building–both in advance of the presidential runoff and in the congress for whoever is elected–will be necessary. It also is going to be very interesting to see what changes might be introduced in the new proposed constitution to the executive structure and executive-legislative power balance. Negretto (2021) observes that constitutional assemblies that have no majority force tend to produce constitutions with more constraints on the executive than the previous constitution (referring to processes occurring within ongoing democracies). Given that the current Chilean constitution has one of the strongest presidencies anywhere, there is a lot of room for new constraints. How far will they go? I am not sure if a semi-presidential (let alone parliamentary) system is even on the table, but it probably should be. They should also consider moving either to a unicameral congress, or convert the senate into a more explicitly regional body with substantially diminished powers.

3 thoughts on “Chile 2021: Presidential first round and congress

  1. I think the real question is whether the elected president will respect the constitution-making process or undermine it. Particularly if Kast is elected, I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be a real threat of him trying to claim a mandate to dissolve the Constituent Assembly.

      • Well, all the runoff election polls published so far have Boric ahead of Kast, but the vote won’t take place for another two weeks and two days – an eternity in politics.

        There was undoubtedly a fair amount of split voting, mainly among voters of right-of-center Chile Podemos Más backing Kast in the presidential vote, but also among voters of the center-left Nuevo Pacto Social lining up behind Party of the People nominee Franco Parisi, who finished third in the first round.

        By the way, one notable instance of split voting on the right was the first round election outcome in the old i.e. binomial Chamber District 23, comprised of the mostly well-to-do comunas (municipalties) of Las Condes, Vitacura and Lo Barnechea in the Santiago Metropolitan Region (and nowadays part of Chamber District 11, along with the old District 24). In these three municipalities – all staunchly right-wing for decades now, to the point they were the only three municipalities of significance in all of Chile to reject drafting a new constitution back in 2020 (along with one very small comuna in the Tarapacá region and the even smaller settlement in Antarctica) – Kast won 48.1% in the first round to 31.7% for center-right nominee Sebastián Sichel (who finished fourth nationwide, narrowly behind Parisi), with Boric coming a distant third with 10.9% and Parisi a poor sixth with 1.1%. However, in the vote for deputies, Chile Podemos Más polled 49.7% to 25.5% for Kast’s Social Christian Front; Boric’s Apruebo Dignidad alliance finished third with 11.8%.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.