Chile election victory puts billionaire Piñera back in the presidency

World Today

Chile’s former President Sebastian Pinera, with his wife Cecilia Morel, celebrates with supporters after winning the presidential election runoff in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)

Sebastian Piñera won the Chilean presidential election on Sunday. The billionaire conservative candidate defeated Alejandro Guillier, promising to push economic growth.

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports on another country in South America shifting from the left to the right.

After a widely split vote in the first round, Chile decided to go with the candidate it knows best. Piñera won a strong mandate for a second term in office, taking 54 percent of the vote.

“In these elections, the candidates were not the most important. The most important people were you: your families, our country, and the future of Chile,” Piñera said.

During the campaign, Piñera promised a future that is more pro-business with a stronger economy. He also pledged to address faults in the pension and education systems, while reviewing sensitive social policies.

Center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier said that while he would continue the social reforms of Michelle Bachelet, he accepted defeat and called for a change in how the political class operates.

“We have to work to renew our leadership, how we do politics,” the defeated candidate said. “We must open up to the social movements, listen to the citizens more, leave the palace and go to community meetings, to union meetings. We must travel the country and talk to people”

Outgoing president Bachelet pursued a socially-progressive agenda that included loosening laws on abortion and education reform. From the left, Bachelet was criticized for not going far enough, while from the right, critics said those reforms scared off private investment.

Changes to Chile’s electoral system mean that many minority parties won seats in Congress in these elections, meaning Piñera will need strong negotiating skills to move forward with his pro-business agenda. But his victory does fit in the broader narrative of the political shift in Latin America.

Chile, like the region, is moving to the right after a series of leftist governments.

“You have a dispute in Latin America. It is still not resolved,” according to journalist and analyst Pedro Brieger. “In the 70s you had mainly dictatorships, in the 80s recovering from dictatorships and building democracy, in the 90s you had neoliberal policies – in big trends I’m speaking about. And in this new century you had the arrival of popular movements who tried to build a post-neoliberal era. That’s not easy.”

Piñera will take office for a second term as president in March 2018. It will be a year in which major regional economies Mexico, Brazil and Colombia also hold presidential elections.

Michael Shifter discusses Pinera’s election victory in Chile

Chile looked to the past to pick its future leader. Former President Sebastian Pinera is the projected winner of a presidential runoff election. With nearly all the votes counted, his challenger Alejandro Guillier conceded and congratulated the conservative billionaire on his victory. Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, discusses with CGTN’s Susan Roberts.