Chile’s center-right has never regained its strength since it saw its popularity evaporate in the barrage of social protests two years ago, and the crisis has been getting worse. With less than 40 days to go before the November 21 presidential elections, the parties of President Sebastián Piñera’s Chile Vamos coalition are weak and isolated, trailing left and right opponents in the polls.
This Wednesday, opposition deputies filed an impeachment process against Piñera. The initiative follows the opening of an investigation by the Public Ministry, last week, into a possible crime of bribery committed by the president in the purchase and sale of a mining company, following revelations in the Pandora Papers. If the indictment is endorsed in both Houses — by a simple majority in the House of Representatives and two-thirds in the Senate — the president will be forced out of office and will be ineligible for five years.
The campaign of the government candidate, Sebastián Sichel, a member of the Christian democracy and today without a party, is facing an earthquake. On Tuesday, channels CHV and CNN Chile filed complaints about alleged irregularities in the funding of their campaign for congressman in 2009. One of those involved in the allegations was Cristóbal Acevedo, their campaign coordinator. Faced with the accusations, Acevedo asked to be dismissed from the position yesterday.
Thus, Sichel’s chances of advancing to the second round drop even further. According to last week’s latest Criteria poll, leftist candidate Gabriel Boric is in first, with 26% of intentions. In second is the radical right candidate José Antonio Kast, who has attracted voters from the traditional right, and scored 17%. Sichel is in third with 15%. The Chilean democratic right is facing “a very serious crisis,” political scientist Julieta Suárez Cao of the Catholic University of Chile told GLOBO:
“They’re at their worst, but it always seems like it could get even worse,” said Suarez Cao. “The Pandora Papers are a killing blow to Piñera’s reputation, who will end his term on this charge.
The process involves Piñera selling mining company Dominga to one of his best friends through a company in the British Virgin Islands in 2010, nine months before he begins his first term. The payment of the third installment of the transaction was subject to the non-declaration of the area of operations as an environmental reserve, a decision that was in the hands of Piñera when he was president.
Despite undeniable merits in the coronavirus vaccination campaign — the country was the fastest vaccinated in Latin America, and currently about 75% of Chileans have already taken two doses — Piñera’s popularity was already on the ground before the allegations, with about 20% approval and 70% rejection.
In 2019, Piñera already faced an impeachment process, barred by his coalition. Since then, however, his block has become increasingly undisciplined. With that, according to Suárez Cao, it is not impossible for the new process to advance:
“There is no longer party discipline. Several deputies are campaigning for re-election, and it is possible that they will vote in favor of the prosecution. It is necessary to see what political calculations will be made, but [um impeachment] it doesn’t seem so far-fetched,” the political scientist said.
Sichel’s campaign, on the other hand, faces multiple problems. According to Stéphanie Alenda, a sociologist at the Andrés Bello University, the candidate made mistakes in the campaign, such as attacking his opponent Boric for not being a father, which did not resonate well. In addition, the independent, winner of the center-right primaries, “was slow to link up with political parties and created tensions with the elite, which made him very isolated.”
For Alenda, an identity factor on the right also matters. Faced with a likely victory for the left in the elections — in most polls, Boric has more than 60 percent of the vote in the second round — many voters rejected someone with a background in the Christian Democratic center. These voters are betting that, “if it’s for the right to lose, then it’s for one of their own.”
“The fact that Kast is of very clear lineage brings him a certain prestige. It was also strengthened by a climate of disorder, the perception that the rule of law is not working well,” said Alenda, stressing that his victory was unlikely.
Faced with the loss of prestige and legal accusations, the block reacts. Yesterday, Sichel said he never knew where the contributions came from, and accused the Christian Democracy of being responsible for raising money. He was also said to be a victim of defamation:
— This is another chapter of a political operation designed to discredit me.
Piñera’s representatives, on the other hand, accused the impeachment process of being a coup plotter.
— We are facing a white blow. It is obvious that they want to change the results of the democratic elections and do not want a democratic and republican transfer of command, as appropriate, on 11 March [de 2022] said government spokesman Jaime Bellolio.
Piñera has also sought to signal the more conservative electorate. The day before yesterday, the president declared a state of emergency for 15 days, extendable for another 15, in regions in the south of the country where there are agrarian conflicts linked to ancestral Mapuche lands. Although there are in fact violent conflicts in the region between indigenous people and ranchers, the moment of decision indicates an electoral motivation:
— It would be naive not to link the state of emergency to the presidential campaign. It’s a way to respond to a strong demand from the tougher right, to try to win back voters,” said Suárez Cao.