Chile: Runoff election today

Report from Al-Jazeera from Lucia Newman, who used to love Castro when she worked for CNN in Cuba, painting Sebastian Piñera as “right wing” and implying he’d be sympathetic to the juntas of old days,

Juan Forero, reporting for the NYT, is more balanced, Chile race reflects Latin America’s growing preference for free-market centrists

Whether a billionaire businessman or a former president wins Chile’s presidential election Sunday, the outcome will reflect a broader trend in Latin America — the rise of the pragmatic centrist.

After years of victories by leftist candidates, market-friendly moderates are gaining ground in the region.

Some are emerging from the right, such as Sebastian Piñera, 60, an airline magnate who has held a razor-thin lead in the polls ahead of Chile’s runoff vote.

Political analysts say that Piñera and the ruling coalition candidate, Eduardo Frei, 67, who was president from 1994 to 2000, differ in style but not markedly in the substance of their proposals. Irrespective of whom voters choose, Chile is unlikely to veer from the centrist, free-market path that has brought the nation prosperity since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990.

Political analysts say the right is not making a comeback in Latin America, where a mix of leftist rabble-rousers and European-style socialists have taken power since a bombastic former army colonel, Hugo Chávez, won office in Venezuela in 1998 by pledging to overturn the old political order.

Instead, voters are showing a preference for moderates rather than firebrand nationalists who preach class warfare and state intervention in the economy, according to political analysts and recent polls.

“Voters are more calculating and rational than we give them credit for,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas in New York. “People are making the choice to support market economies and rational leaders.”

That was the case in Panama,

In Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, a supermarket-chain owner with close ties to the United States, won the presidency in May. In Brazil, the popular governor of Sao Paulo state, José Serra, enjoys a solid lead in the polls over his more left-leaning rival ahead of October’s presidential election. Polls show the winner in Costa Rica’s election next month will probably be the ruling party’s Laura Chinchilla, who is expected to closely hew to the current government’s market-friendly policies.

Even the Communists are calling themselves moderate,

But two prominent leftists who won office last year — former rebel José “Pepe” Mujica in Uruguay and Mauricio Funes, head of a party that was born out of the guerrilla movement in El Salvador — have highlighted middle-of-the-road policies.

They say they are inspired by the region’s most admired moderate, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. A former union activist, Lula is known for his innovative anti-poverty programs and a cautious oversight of the economy that has won Wall Street approval.

“The Latin American voter wants refrigerators and washing machines — they want prosperity,” said Marta Lagos, director of Chile’s Latinobarometro polling company, which surveys political attitudes in 18 Latin American countries. “They have abandoned the ideological flag.”

Hugo Chávez’s support in the region is at an all-time low of 27% approval rating, while 59 percent of Latin Americans surveyed last month said a market economy is best for their country.

Whatever the outcome of the election in Chile, the social policies will continue along with the judicious monetary policy.

This, along with Latin Americans’ new support of market economies, is great news for the region.

I’ll post more on the election once the results are in.

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5 Responses to “Chile: Runoff election today”

  1. Pat Patterson Says:

    It’s easy to claim to be a moderate when comparing themselves to the Tupamaros or Shining Path. The realization is finally hitting many South Americans that they can be as wealthy and free as the US by their own efforts instead of being thrust back into some type of agrarian commune or social justice. The problem for the communists is that the “successes” or Cuba and Venezuela are no longer hidden and simply prove that those systems create secret police and not wealth or health.

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