Chilean presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera Claudio Reyes/Getty Images

Why Has Latin America Turned Away from the Left?

In Argentina and Brazil, one cannot understand recent political changes without reference to the corrupt antics of populist and semi-populist operatives. But that simple explanation does not fit Chile, where outgoing President Michelle Bachelet misdiagnosed the public mood.

SANTIAGO – In Chile’s November election, anti-establishment voting was the name of the game. A new populist left coalition, modeled after Spain’s Podemos, received one-fifth of the vote. Many long-established figures, including the president of the Senate, lost their seats in Congress. Pundits were quick to describe a sharp turn to the left.

And yet in the second round of voting held on December 17, Chileans sent Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire former president and poster child for the local conservative establishment, back to La Moneda (the presidential palace). How was this possible? And what does this paradox reveal about the state of politics in Chile and the region?

In much of the international press, the standard narrative runs something like this: Because Latin America has the most unequal income distribution in the world, it tends to elect left-wing reformers. When the reformers keep their word and provide generous social benefits, voters love it and rush to the polls to keep the same person or party in office.

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