Monday, October 29, 2012

Leftist parties make gains in Chilean elections

The already unpopular Chilean government of Sebastian Piñera was further weakened this weekend after the leftist opposition made gains in local elections.

Leftist parties took nearly 44 percent of the vote, compared to 37.5 percent for parties from Piñera’s center-right coalition. The results saw pro-government candidates lose control of 23 municipalities across the country and eight in capital Santiago.

Presidential elections are now a year away and with Piñera’s popularity ratings down to 27%, the poor showing could be one of the final nails in the coffin of his presidency if rightist politicians now seek to distance themselves. “This is really bad for Pinera,” political scientist Patricio Navia told Bloomberg. “His government really is now a lame-duck government, and he´s going to have to rush to reshuffle his cabinet because cabinet ministers will run away from him.”   

The elections were marked by a low turnout, with around 60% of voters abstaining. This is widely perceived to be a result of recent electoral reforms, which ended mandatory voting. Previously, while registering to vote was optional, once registered voting was a legal requirement - a system which critics claimed kept the electoral role artificially low. Under the new system, which has increased the number of voters from 8.1 million to 13.4 million, Chileans are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 but voting is no longer compulsory.

The final reforms represented a compromise between the left, who hoped to benefit from the increased number of voters, and the right, whose voters are considered more likely to still turn out when voting is optional.

Some analysts had speculated that the increased size of the electoral role would boost the left with an influx of new voters influenced by the student movement that has demanded educational reforms in a wave of protests over the last year. However, the strength of the movement seems to have instead fueled absenteeism as its failure to bring about structural reforms on a policy level has led to disillusionment with electoral politics, and some protest leaders urging a boycott of the elections.

The elections also provided a reminder that Chile is still confronting the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. The elections saw a first victory for Maya Fernandez Allende, the granddaughter of former socialist president Salvador Allende, who was toppled in the 1973 coup, and defeat for retired general Cristian Labbe, Pinochet’s former domestic intelligence chief. Elsewhere, Carolina Toha, the daugther of Allende’s vice-president, secured perhaps the left’s biggest victory of the night, winning in central Santiago. Toha has been a vocal supporter of the student movement, while her opponent had ordered police crackdowns on protests.

A quirk of the electoral reforms also provided a reminder of the dictatorship era, as the automatic voter registration has led to the names of around 1,000 people disappeared under Pinochet reappearing on the electoral role as eligible to vote.

News Briefs
  • Amnesty International reports on the plight of 170 Guarani–Kaiowá indigenous people who are fighting eviction in southern Brazil. The Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay have been involved in a confrontation with soya and sugarcane farmers since they reoccupied ancestral lands after they were forced from their homes by gunmen in 2011. A translation of the letter sent by the community to the Brazilian authorities appears here.
  • Al Jazeera reports on violent clashes between market vendors and Peruvian police in Lima over plans to relocate the La Parada open-air produce market to a new site, which vendors claim has high-rents and is too far removed from their customers. The protests have left four dead, dozens injured and over 100 arrested, according to the Financial Times.
  • CNN reports on the Bolivian government’s plans to regulate social media, focusing on the Vice-President’s curious claim to be personally noting the names of Twitter and Facebook critics of the government.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America analyzes the aerial fumigation of coca crops in Colombia and the impact of the U.S. instigated program on Afro-Colombian communities, who say the fumigations cause health problems, destroy food crops and poison the surrounding environment.
  • Fernando Haddad, a former Brazilian education minister and candidate for the ruling Workers Party, has won the election to become Sao Paulo’s new mayor, reports the L.A. Times. Haddad began the campaign polling on just 2% but emerged victorious with 56% of the vote after receiving heavy backing from ex-President “Lula” Da Silva and current President Dilma Rousseff. 
  • Upside Down World has a feature on an international campaign calling for an end to attacks by paramilitary groups on Zapatista communities in Mexico.
  • The Central American Politics Blog features a short video and comment on the relationship between poverty in Guatemala and immigration to the U.S. According to the blog, the U.S. will have deported approximately 60,000 Guatemalans by the end of the year. 
  • In the Financial Times Beyond Brics blog, Jennifer McCoy argues Hugo Chavez’s reelection owes much to Venezuelan voters who feel Chavez has been the first leader to offer them political and economic inclusion but who, far from being blind followers of the president, are acutely aware of the government’s failings. Meanwhile the International Institute for Strategic Studies looks at the deep challenges facing Chavez’s newly elected government.