Chile’s Presidential Minuet

BUENOS AIRES – Chile has been Latin America’s success story since the 1980’s, boasting rapid economic growth, successful integration into the world economy, solid democratic institutions, an effective state bureaucracy, and low levels of corruption. By most standards, the country is far better off than the rest of the region.

Not surprisingly, Chileans have kept the ruling Christian Democrat-Socialist coalition (the Concertación ) in power for four consecutive terms since 1990, when democracy was restored after 17 years of General Augusto Pinochet’s repressive military rule. On December 13, however, voters in Chile’s presidential election are likely to make the Concertación candidate sweat.

The Concertación is running Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, the son of a former president who was president himself from 1994 until 2000. His opponent is Sebastián Piñera, a tycoon, former senator, and presidential runner-up in 2006 who represents the main opposition forces – Piñera’s moderately conservative Renovación Nacional (RN) and the more rightist Union Democrata Independiente (UDI).

So far, nothing new: the RN and the UDI – which differ mainly in their attitude towards the military government from which they emerged (the RN being the more self-critical) – have been the main challengers in all the previous elections.