Chile's governing coalition stumbles in local elections.

Author:Witte, Benjamin-Lebhar

With wins in Central Santiago and other high-priority comunas (districts) in the capital, Chile's conservative opposition gained ground in recent municipal elections at the expense of the governing Nueva Mayoria coalition, which faces an uncertain future as its struggling leader, President Michelle Bachelet, limps toward her final year in office.

A large majority of eligible voters chose not to participate in the Oct. 23 elections. Abstention stood at 65%, a post-dictatorship record. Those who did go to the polls expressed a slight preference for the rightist Chile Vamos coalition, which edged past the center-left Nueva Mayoria in mayoral votes won (38% versus 37%) while ousting pro-government incumbents in several emblematic municipalities.

The biggest prize was Central Santiago, where Felipe Alessandri, of the center-right Renovacion Nacional (RN) party, beat the incumbent, Carolina Toha, a close ally of Bachelet. The RN is one of two principal parties in Chile Vamos, alongside the hard-right Union Democrata Independiente (UDI). The coalition also includes two smaller parties, Evopoli and Partido Regionalista Independiente (PRI).

Conservative candidates beat Nueva Mayoria incumbents in the greater Santiago comunas of Nunoa, Maipu, and Providencia as well. Providencia, a populous middle-class district just east of downtown Santiago, was won by Evelyn Matthei (UDI), Bachelet's rival in the 2013 presidential runoff (NotiSur, Dec. 20, 2013). Matthei beat Josefa Errazuriz, a former community organizer who became a darling of the left after the last municipal elections, in 2012, when she unseated Cristian Labbe (UDI), a retired colonel who served dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) as a member of the regime's secret police (NotiSur, Nov. 16, 2012). Labbe had governed the key comuna for 16 years.

Overall, Chile Vamos won 144 mayoralties, up from 121 in the 2012 elections, and three more than the governing coalition, which saw the number of municipal governments it controls drop from 167 to 141. Not exactly a right-wing revolution, the results were widely viewed, nevertheless, as a defeat for the multi-party Nueva Mayoria and for Bachelet, whose approval rating stands at 20%, according to an early November survey by the polling firm Cadem. "Chile has spoken, both inside and outside the ballot box," the president said after the election. "The government coalition has lowered its level of support in several places. We need to heed the warning signs."...

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