Cable 239182, Cuenta regresiva para elecciones parlamentarias
DATE: 12/10/2009 19:52,09
SOURCE: Embassy Santiago
RR RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGD RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL RUEHRD RUEHRS
DE RUEHSG #0933/01 3441952
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 101952Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0402
NFO WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC”,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 SANTIAGO 000933
AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN PASS TO AMEMBASSY GRENADA
AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PASS TO AMCONSUL QUEBEC
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PASS TO AMCONSUL RECIFE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/10
TAGS: PGOV, CI
SUBJECT: Countdown to Chile’s Congressional Elections
REF: A. SANTIAGO 899 B. SANTIAGO 755 C. SANTIAGO 919 D. SANTIAGO 448 E. SANTIAGO 484
CLASSIFIED BY: Weitzenkorn, Laurie, A/DCM, State REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (SBU) Summary: Individual races in this year’s congressional elections are more competitive and uncertain than ever, although the elections may not produce much change in the overall makeup of the Chilean Congress. The governing Concertacion coalition will most likely regain its majority in the Senate, and match the opposition Alianza in the Chamber of Deputies. A number of small party and independent candidates, including communist party aspirants, will almost certainly win seats despite an electoral system that favors the two main blocks. The new Congress will largely continue the work of its predecessors, as pending legislation does not need to be reintroduced, while new legislative initiatives will be driven by the new President. End summary.
2. (U) Some 8 million Chileans will vote in congressional elections on December 13, in addition to casting a ballot for president. Eighteen seats in the 38-member Senate and all 120 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are in play. (Note: The remaining 20 senators will not face elections until 2014, as senators serve eight-year terms while deputies serve for four years. One of these senators is Concertacion presidential candidate Eduardo Frei (Ref A). End note.) Senators and deputies can be re-elected indefinitely and are not required to reside in the districts they represent. In fact, it is quite common for incumbents to change districts when running for re-election or for members of the lower house to make a bid for the Senate in a different part of the country than where they previously served as parliamentarian.
3. (U) The governing Concertacion coalition is made up of the Socialist Party (PD), the Party for Democracy (PPD), the Radical Social Democrat Party (PRSD), and the Christian Democrats (DC). The opposition Alianza coalition is made up of the center-right National Renewal Party (RN) — its presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera is the front-runner (Ref B) — and the conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI). After the 2005 elections, the Concertacion coalition held a working majority in both houses of Congress, with 20 senators and 65 parliamentarians. Each house had one independent. Despite this majority — sufficient to pass most laws but not for constitutional reform — President Bachelet had difficulty pushing through her legislative agenda. Concertacion legislators began to stray from the disciplined voting blocks her three Concertacion predecessors had relied upon. The most unruly were labeled “”discolos”” by the press and were accused by their peers of criticizing their own coalition initiatives in order to gain media notoriety.
4. (U) Today that majority has been eroded due to a steady stream of defections over the past few years and disputes over who would be running for re-election on the coalition slate. By September, five Concertacion senators and eight parliamentarians – including maverick presidential candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami (Ref C) left Concertacion parties to become independents or to join the Independent Regionalist Party (PRI). The Concertacion now maintains a plurality in the Chamber with 57 seats, the Alianza holds 53 seats, the PRI 3 seats,and there are 7 independents. In the Senate the Concertacion holds 17 seats, the Alianza 16 seats, and there are 5 independents.
5. (U) In Chile’s unusual “”binomial”” electoral system — implemented during the Pinochet dictatorship — two candidates will be elected per Senate or Chamber district. Coalitions of political parties present a slate of two candidates for each district while independents run alone. Voters will cast separate ballots for the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and can vote for one candidate per race. (Note: Not all voters will receive a Senate ballot as only half of the Senate districts are up for re-election. End note.) The candidate with the most votes wins one of the two seats. However, a single slate of candidates must receive double the votes received by the second-place slate of candidates in order to gain both seats in the district, a process known as “”doubling.”” Under this system, the Alianza and the Concertacion typically each win one seat per Senate district and one seat per Chamber of Deputies district. In order to gain a working majority, a coalition must double”” and win both seats in several districts, a feat which the Concertacion has pulled off in several districts in past elections and which the Alianza has achieved in one district.
6. (U) This year voters will face a record number of candidates in each Chamber of Deputies district–up to nine candidates in some areas. Defections from the Concertacion have resulted in four coalition slates in most districts with a smattering of independents thrown in. In addition to the main Concertacion and Alianza lists in all 60 districts, the “”New Majority”” coalition of the Humanist and Ecological party is running a list in 48 districts and includes two former Concertacion “”discolo”” supporters of presidential candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami who are running for reelection. The PRI is running a list in 53 districts that includes three ex-Concertacion incumbents. The plethora of candidates makes outcomes much more uncertain than in past congressional elections, especially in smaller districts where it might come down to just a few votes. It also will make “”doubling”” very difficult, even in traditional Concertacion and Alianza strongholds.
7. (U) While it is likely that two former Concertacion parliamentarians will be re-elected as independents, others that have decided to run “”off-the-list”” for the Chamber or the Senate may not be so lucky, though they will manage to pull votes away from the Concertacion. Longtime Socialist Senator Carlos Ominami left the Concertacion to support his adopted son Enriquez-Ominami’s independent presidential bid, but he faces an uphill battle to hold on to his senate seat. If enough “”discolos”” running as independents are successful, it could embolden others to take a similar route in the future. What is more likely is that all but a few “”discolos”” will lose to official Concertacion candidates, underlining the importance of party support for a successful congressional bid.
8. (SBU) In order to get around the binomial system that effectively excluded the Communist Party (Ref D) in previous elections, the Concertacion agreed to run Communist candidates in 12 Chamber districts. Only four of those candidacies are considered truly competitive, and the Communist Party is expected to pick up one to two seats in the Chamber. It will be the first time since the return to democracy that the Communist Party is represented in Congress. Although the Christian Democrats and the Communists have been enemies in the past, the instrumental pact was accepted by the Christian Democrats. Frei advisor and Christian Democrat elder statesman Belisario Velasco told Poloff and Pol Specialist that, It’s better to have the Communists than the ‘discolos,’ because when you reach an agreement with the communists they stick to it, whereas the ‘discolos’ don’t.””
9. (SBU) The Concertacion expects to recapture its majority in the Senate, but analysts predict that it will only keep two of its six doubled”” districts in the Chamber of Deputies as “”discolos”” and other independents draw votes off the Concertacion in its strongholds. Both Belisario Velasco, advisor to President Frei, and Dario Paya, UDI deputy, predicted that the Alianza would do well in the Chamber with close to 50 percent of the seats. The real race for the Alianza is in the many districts where RN and UDI candidates on the same slate are fiercely competing for that one seat that is practically guaranteed to their coalition under the binomial system. Depending on the number of seats gained by Enriquez-Ominami supported “”discolos,”” the PRI, independents, and the Communists, the Alianza could find itself with a plurality in the Chamber. However, with so many close races involving serious intra-slate competition and independent wild-cards, some traditional Alianza strongholds are also in play. Most analysts predict the final composition of the Chamber of Deputies will have the Concertacion and the Alianza more or less equally matched while smaller party candidates and independents take between 7 – 10 seats.
10. (SBU) The new Congress will largely continue the work of its predecessors, as pending legislation does not need to be reintroduced. New legislative initiatives will be largely driven by the executive, which sets the priorities of the legislative agenda and can force a congressional vote on a particular piece of draft legislation over another. Despite some significant shifting around of emblematic faces and personalities, the new Congress will likely continue to operate as it currently does, with neither main coalition winning a majority and a group of independents and smaller party representatives playing a swing role.
11. (SBU) Analysts argue that this year’s parliamentary election is the first to be completely “”decoupled”” from the presidential race, where many congressional candidates are running on their own resumes rather than attempting to ride their presidential candidates’ coattails. There are more variables and uncertainty present than in previous years, when the two big coalitions offered candidacies to emblematic political leaders that were virtually guaranteed to win, thanks to the binomial system. Not anymore. Several longtime leaders are taking big risks, including now independent Senator Carlos Ominami and Deputy Isabel Allende. A Socialist and the daughter of former President Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende is running a very tight race against her slate-mate for a Senate seat in northern Chile. UDI Deputy Dario Paya admitted that his party is concerned that as many as four important UDI leaders may lose their races – including the current and highly respected President of the Chamber, Rodrigo Alvarez — which would be “”devastating”” for the party. He was quick to add that all four would made excellent additions to a Pinera administration, though others in the Pinera campaign have told us that Pinera is opposed to including “”congressional losers”” in his administration.
12. (C) The usual predictability of the binomial system that favors two main coalitions is being challenged seriously for the first time in this year’s congressional election. While the end result may not produce any big surprises in terms of balance, it has already upended the traditional notion that the most important part of running for Congress was securing a nomination (Ref E). Greater competition and uncertainty have pushed candidates to campaign more competitively and have brought in some fresh faces. While these fresh faces are largely from the usual circle of political elites, more competition in legislative elections should strengthen Chile’s democracy, which has gotten a bit stale since there has been little change in party structures or personalities since the end of military rule in 1990. Any future President will have to negotiate his legislative priorities with the opposition and in the context of a more fractured Congress. The smaller party representatives and independents will be the ones to watch. End comment.