Political Scenarios for 1999 in Chile.

February 1999.

Patricio Navia


The candidates


Ricardo Lagos, 60, is a lawyer and a Ph.D. in Economics from Duke University. He is the candidate of the Socialist Party and the social-democratic PPD. He lost in the Concertación primaries in 1993 to Eduardo Frei, he also gave up presidential aspirations in 1989 when he supported Patricio Aylwin.  Lagos led the ideological renewal of the Socialist Party and was a founding member of the Concertación. After losing a senate race in 1989 (his only electoral contest so far), Lagos joined Aylwin's cabinet as Minister of Education. He also served under Eduardo Frei as Minister of Public Works from 1994 to 1998 when resigned to launch his presidential campaign.  As minister, he led an impressive period of infrastructure renewal with a Build-Operate-Transfer system that attracted foreign investment.  His poll numbers have stayed over 35% since early 1998, but his opposition to Pinochet and his socialist ideas raise concern among business leaders and the military.  He needs to win the Concertación primaries and secure the support of Christian Democrats to win the December elections in the first round. The Pinochet arrest did not affect his standing in the polls and he is expected to win the Concertación presidential primaries on May 30, 1999.


Joaquín Lavín, 46, is the likely candidate of the conservative coalition. A University of Chicago graduate with a Master's in Economics, an Independent Democratic Union (UDI) member and mayor of the affluent Las Condes municipality in Santiago, Lavín has consistently maintained 27% in presidential polls. Lavín is strongest on public management and innovative government solutions. A Pinochet supporter in the 80s, he wrote for El Mercurio and emerged as leader among the conservative right. Father of 8 and an extremely conservative Catholic, Lavín distanced himself from Pinochet in early 1998 and reached out to centrist Christian Democratic supporters.  Pinochet's arrest in London forced him to side with the general and abort his repositioning in the center. Stable political preferences among the Chilean electorate make very unlikely that Lavín can obtain more than Pinochet’s historically high 44% in the 1988 plebiscite. Lavín is unlikely to defeat a Concertación candidate even if he is able to force a runoff election.


Andrés Zaldívar, 62, is the president of the senate and the CDP candidate for the Concertación primaries. A lawyer, Zaldívar served as Minister of Finance in Eduardo Frei's government (1964-70). A fierce opponent of Allende, Zaldívar then also opposed the dictatorship and was exiled in the early 80s. After losing to Patricio Aylwin the leadership of the CDP, Zaldívar successfully defeated Lagos in a senatorial election in 1989. He won re-election to the senate in 1997 with a weaker than expected showing. He was able to secure his party nomination but his standing in polls has not risen above 12% after a year of campaigning.  His party's ability to mobilize voters in the primaries will give him an edge in the primaries against Lagos, but he is not expected to win the Concertación nomination.


Arturo Frei Bolívar, a lawyer and lifetime CDP militant, Frei Bolívar (nephew of former president Frei and cousin of current president) was elected senator in 1989 and served as chairman of the Armed Forces Committee where he developed strong links with the military. After Pinochet's arrest, Frei Bolívar visited the general in London and his independent presidential campaign is seen as a maneuver by the general to prevent Lagos from winning the election.  If Lagos wins the Concertación primaries, Frei Bolívar could capitalize among CDP voters unhappy with Lagos' socialist militancy.


Gladys Marín, 58, is the Communist Party candidate. She is expected to get 6% of the vote, the electoral share of the hard-line party.  She is an elementary school teacher and was elected deputy in 1969 and went into exile in 1973 after her husband was killed by the military secret policy.  She has led the Communist Party in the 90s and has focused on human rights issues, opposition to privatization plans and income distribution.


The parties

            The Concertación is the coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists and PPD Social Democrats formed in 1988 to oppose General Pinochet in the plebiscite. The Concertación victory brought about free presidential and parliamentary elections in 1989.  The Concertación has won every election since 1988 and the Aylwin and Frei governments have led the country to double its GNP, increase exports, reduce poverty and increase investment. Tensions between the Christian Democrats and Socialists has caused some concern about the future of the coalition, but all parties involve have pledged loyalty to the Concertación and have agreed on supporting the presidential candidate that wins the primaries to be held in May.

            The UDI-National Renovation (RN) coalition has suffered splits and internal divisions. Their inability to increase their electoral support beyond 40% has led many to attempt to distance himself from Pinochet and the former military government.  Pinochet’s arrest in London destroyed that strategy. Center-right liberals have given up their presidential aspirations and are now debating between supporting conservative UDI’s Lavin or searching for an alternative candidate (some have expressed support for Frei Bolívar).  Pinochet’s apparent mistrust of Lavín as a viable candidate has also created tensions within the UDI, the business elite and the military.  Rivalries between the UDI and RN make almost certain that both parties will nullify each other and damage their presidential aspirations.



The scenarios

Lagos wins the Concertación primaries and handily defeats Lavín in a replay of the 1993 presidential and 1997 parliamentary elections, where the Concertación secured a majority of votes.  Pinochet arrest in London did not complicate Lagos's chances and he remains ahead in polls. The arrest has divided the country along the same lines that gave the Concertación its first electoral victory in the 1988 plebiscite, Christian Democrats and socialists together against the Pinochet-loyal conservatives. To secure Christian Democratic support, Lagos will need to make concessions to his coalition partner in cabinet and other appointments.  Two hurdles remain ahead for Lagos’ presidential aspirations. He needs to mobilize enough votes to defeat Zaldívar and the CDP’s vote mobilizing structure in the primaries. If he succeeds, he needs to secure the support of CDP rank-and-file members in the December election.



If Lagos wins the Concertación primaries but CDP defections from the Lagos camp to Lavín and Frei Bolívar force a run-off election, Lagos wins in a second round and is weakened as the first Concertación president to fail to win in the first round.


In the unlikely event that Lagos loses the Concertación primaries to Zaldívar, a disenchanted electorate will bring Zaldívar to the presidency with a very low turnout and a significant protest vote for leftist candidates from Lagos supporters.  Lavín stands his best chances facing Zaldívar, although he is unlikely to win even against Zaldívar. If Zaldívar wins the primaries, Frei Bolívar will not run in December.


The strategy of Frei Bolívar, or a different "stop-Lagos" candidate is to get enough votes to force a run-off election.  In the best scenario, the combined votes of Lavín and the "stop-Lagos" candidate are more than Lagos’ and the second round becomes an open race between Lagos and Lavín. So far, polls show that Lagos wins in a two-man race with Lavín.  Marín is also seeking to force a run-off election and use her votes to negotiate with Lagos and the Concertación.


The primaries

Although Lagos is running ahead of Zaldívar in the polls by a margin of 3-1, it is unlikely that Zaldívar will abandon before the primaries. Zaldívar is banking on his party’s ability to mobilize voters. Because Zaldívar and Lagos have pledged to participate in the primaries organized by their parties, the winner will secure the Concertación’s official support. The loser is expected to campaign for the winner in December.


There was some concerned a few months ago about the Concertación future, but Pinochet’s arrest has reunited Christian Democrats and Socialists on the need for a Concertación (although not on the strategy to follow with regard to Pinochet’s future). Frei Bolívar’s move to position himself as an alternative candidate resulted in a strong move within the CDP to stand by president Frei and the Concertación.  Zaldívar’s efforts to attract conservative voters to the primaries is causing tensions with the Lagos camp, but his rejection of any out-of-Concertación presidential campaign has strengthened the Concertación.


Although at one point there was talk about allowing Lagos and Zaldívar to run in the December election in a “One  Concertación, two candidates” strategy, the parties’ commitment to a presidential primaries make it unlikely that Zalídvar and Lagos will both run in December. One of them will be out the running after the May 30, primaries.