After the victory of former Chilean president, Sebastían Piñera, in the second round of the Chilean presidential elections held last week, the direction of policy and governance in Chile could change considerably from that of current president Michelle Bachelet.
Piñera, who was previously president between 2010 and 2014 and will now regain the presidency in 2018, is estimated to be one of the three richest people in Chile. Representing the centre-right Chile Vamos coalition, he won by a considerable margin of nearly 10 percentage points over Alejandro Guillier, a former television presenter and the candidate of the centre-left – which struggled to maintain a unified front during the presidential campaign.
Piñera’s previous term in office is remembered for its mixed fortunes. While he did improve the country’s economic standing, increased employment, and presided over the rescue of 33 miners trapped underground (a story which gained worldwide media attention and was later made into a Hollywood film), his government’s educational policy and the general cost of higher education provoked widespread student protests in 2011. During his first term in office, he also faced protests across the southern Magallanes region, which were sparked by a planned 16.8% increase in the price of natural gas there.
The 2010 earthquake, which happened two weeks before Piñera assumed office, limited many of the administration’s policy plans as a large amount of money was diverted to the rescue and recovery efforts. Indeed, Piñera himself admitted that his 2010-14 administration would become ‘a government of reconstruction’.
He will serve as President until 2022, and has pledged to reverse many of the social reforms that have been enacted, or are currently in the process of being enacted, by the Bachelet administration. Some have accused Piñera of driving his campaign for a second term further to the political right, especially given that he declared before the first round of voting his opposition to the legalisation of same sex marriage and access to abortion in three circumstances, both of which are social reform projects enacted into law by the Bachelet government.
However, this election has also seen Piñera redefine himself as more of a pragmatist, who is now perhaps less ideologically driven than during his previous term. While his rhetoric on some social issues prioritised by Bachelet has been hostile, he has promised to maintain and expand the law introducing free education for a large percentage of the population, a cause championed by Bachelet which could now prove to be one of the defining legacies of her time in office.
An established businessman before he first entered politics as a senator for East Santago in 1990, Piñera once invested in the country’s flag carrier airline LAN and also had shareholdings in Colo Colo, the country’s largest football club, and the Chilevisión broadcaster. He made the majority of his wealth during the 1980s, when his company Bancard became the first to introduce credit cards into Chile. While Piñera did say that he would renounce his private interests upon ascending to the presidency, there is scepticism in some quarters of Chilean society about how far he will go in this regard – a poll by CERC-Mori in April found that 63% of Chileans believed he would not distance himself from his investments if elected to the presidency.
Some political experts have said that it is likely Piñera’s government will be one of transition – as it’s the first time that some demographic and social changes will manifest themselves in politics. Although Piñera now has an indisputable majority, his pledge to unify the opposing sides of Chilean politics is likely to be strongly tested in the coming months. This is both due to the overall low voter turnout of around 49% (it was estimated a higher turnout could have swung the election in favour of Guillier), and the persistence of the opposition, which is likely to resist many of his political efforts.