Monthly Archives: November 2013

Guide to Chilean Politics and the 2013 elections

Presidential (first round), congressional and regional elections were held in Chile on November 17, 2013. The President of Chile is elected for a four-year term, not immediately renewable, by a two-round system. A second round will be held on December 15, 2013 since no candidate won over 50% of the vote in the first round. The entirety of the lower house of the National Congress (Congreso Nacional), the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados), elected for four-year terms and half of the Senate (Senado), elected for eight-year terms, were up for reelection. For the first time, voters also directly elected their regional councillors (consejeros regionales) in the country’s 15 administrative regions.

This very long post is designed as an ex post facto guide to Chilean political history, politics and the campaign (with analysis of the results) than just as a usual post-election analysis. That’s why it is so,so long (but, again, divided into sections).

Electoral system

Map of Chile (physical)

The President of Chile, who is head of state and government, is elected to a four-year term under a traditional two-round system in which a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes to be elected outright by the first round. The President may not serve consecutive terms in office, although a former President may serve a second non-consecutive term in office.

Members of both houses of Congress are elected by the binomial system in two-member constituencies. The Chamber of Deputies’ 120 deputies are elected for four-year terms in 60 two-member districts (distritos), while the Senate’s 38 senators are elected for eight-year terms in 19 two-member constituencies (circunscripciones) – renewed by halves every four years. The binomial system, an issue of hot debate in Chile, is an enduring legacy of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the negotiated transition to democracy in 1989.

There are major population disparities between the districts/constituencies, with two urban districts in Santiago having over 600,000 people and two regional districts having less than 100,000.

In each district/constituency, each party/coalition of parties runs one or two candidates (almost always two, independents will often run alone) which are considered as a ‘list’. However, voters do not vote for party lists – they vote for two candidates, regardless of party lists. Nonetheless, when results are calculated, the votes cast for all lists’ candidate(s) are added together and the two lists which obtained the most votes win one seat each. Within each list, the candidate which won the most votes of the two candidates is elected. However, when a single list wins more than twice the number of votes cast for the second-placed list, that list obtains both seats. For example, if list A wins 60% of the vote and list B wins 30% of the vote, then list A would win both seats. However, if list B was to win 31% of the vote (and list A still 60%), then both seats would be split between these two lists.

The binomial system leads the over-representation of the two largest blocs and severely penalizes third parties/coalitions, which are, more often than not, unable to win seats in Congress. The workings of the binomial system also means that the two candidates who won the most votes are not necessarily elected; for example, if the winning list’s second-placed candidate won more votes than the first placed candidate on the list which placed second, the winning lists’s second candidate will only be elected if his/her list won more than twice the number of votes cast for the list placing second. If not, the first candidate of list B would be elected even if he/she has less votes than the second candidate on list A.

The binomial system establishes a structurally conservative system, in which the relative size of the two largest blocs change relatively little from election to election. The system is often criticized for the left, especially the extra-parliamentary left, because of the immobility it creates and the exclusion of weaker third parties. The system’s supporters, who are often on the right of the spectrum, argue that it allows for political stability and encourages the creation of two, strong blocs.

Political history

Chile’s contemporary politics, society and economy remain heavily influenced by the country’s tumultuous history. Understanding Chilean political history is key to understanding the political issues, debates and structure which exist today. Certainly, the enduring legacy of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship has continued to play a huge role in Chilean politics and society, but it is important to understand the various long-lasting issues in Chilean politics which led to the 1973 coup and which, to a certain extent, continue to inform political debate in Chile.

Chilean political history is made all the more interesting because it stands out from the traditional story of Latin American politics. Chile came closer to European ideological, class-based and partisan politics than practically any other Latin American country; while Chile’s politics were unstable and not immune to coups and military intervention, Chileans long prided themselves on their relatively robust democratic system which endured for decades while other countries came under the iron fist of caudillos. What led to this unique state of things? And what caused Chilean democracy to unravel and fall victim to a bloody dictatorial regime in 1973?

Conservative Republic (1829-1861)

In the nineteenth century, as in most other Latin American countries at the time, Chilean politics – a game reserved to the landowning elites – was marked by the traditional battle between Conservatives and Liberals, a political struggle which expressed different views on the organization of powers (strength of the executive), the role of Catholic Church, the economy and political liberties. Although there seems to be a tendency to overstate the ideological antagonism of these profoundly elitist factions, the liberals generally came to stand for individual liberties, democracy with checks on executive powers, free trade and were generally anti-clerical and supported the ideals embodied by the French and American Revolutions; while the conservative stood for an aristocratic authoritarian, and centralized government, and supported the privileges of the Catholic Church.

In 1829, a conservative alliance of pelucones (aristocratic ‘bigwigs’), estanqueros (tobacco monopolists led by Diego Portales) and o’higginistas (followers of the deposed autocratic independence leader Bernardo O’Higgins) defeated the liberal pipiolos and led to the establishment of the Conservative Republic, which would last until 1861.

The dominant figure of the first decade of conservative rule was Diego Portales, who despite never being President himself became the most powerful man in the country until his assassination in 1837. Portales wanted a strong and centralized government which would command full authority, ensure stability and embody patriotism and virtues (he spoke of the need to guide the fundamentally sinful citizens on the path of order and virtue). Although he was fairly uninterested by the drafting of 1833 Constitution, the text – which would serve as the basis of Chilean politics (in very different forms) until 1925 – took up many of Portales’ political views – a strong, respected and centralized government and guarantees of the Catholic Church’s predominant role in society. The new constitution inaugurated an era of political stability and stuttered economic development (the Chilean silver rush, until the 1850s).

Portales, keen to assert Chilean dominance over the Pacific, led the country into a controversial war with the Peru-Bolivian Confederation. The outbreak of war, opposed by large swathes of the Chilean elites, led to a military rebellion and Portales’ assassination in 1837. With Portales’ death, however, the rebellion was nipped in the bud and the Chileans, led by Manuel Bulnes, eventually defeated the Confederation in 1839. Bulnes became president in 1841, presiding over ten calm years of economic growth, creativity and colonization of the Chilean territory. In 1851, a brief revolution by liberals and rival conservatives opposed to president-elect Manuel Montt was defeated.

Manuel Montt’s second five-year term in office (1856-1861) saw the division of the ruling conservative elite over the ‘question of the sacristan’ (Cuestión del Sacristán), an issue which spoke to the role of the Catholic Church in politics. Ultramontane Conservatives, supporters of a strong Church, broke with Montt and his minister, Antonio Varas, who came to favour the supremacy of secular power over ecclesiastical power. Montt and Varista founded the National Party (Partido Nacional), which represented banks and corporate interests. The Conservative Party became a clerical party, often described as the mere political arm of the clergy. However, notwithstanding profound ideological differences and historical antagonisms, the Conservatives found common ground with the ostensibly anti-clerical Liberal Party (out of power since 1831) in opposition to the Montt government and in 1857, the two old parties formed an alliance, the Fusión Liberal Conservadora (the ‘fusion’). The Liberals’ alliance with the clerical Conservatives led to the creation, in 1862, of the anti-clerical Radical Party.

Liberal Republic (1861-1891)

José Joaquín Pérez, backed by the nacionales and the fusión, was elected President, unopposed, in 1861. His election marked the transition to the Liberal Republic, which governed the country until 1891. The Nationals, who had backed the president-elect’s candidacy, were gradually excluded from power after 1862, when Pérez formed a cabinet composed of Liberals and Conservatives. The transition from the Conservative Republic to the Liberal Republic was very much a negotiated elite agreement, with the simple transfer of power from one branch of the elite to another. The Liberals, who became predominant, used their control of the administrative apparatus to control elections and persecute opponents. The economic structure of the country, controlled by landowners and urban corporate interests, remained unchanged.

Pérez’s government was able to surmount differences between the Liberals and Conservatives on the ‘theological question’, with modest openings of the elite. In 1865, Catholicism was confirmed as the official religion but freedom of religion was recognized, and non-Catholics were given the right to their own churches and religious schools. A constitutional reform in 1871 barred the President from running for reelection. Economically, the end of the silver rush in northern Chile marked the beginning of the nitrate industry, originally in regions still controlled by Bolivia.

Pérez was succeeded by fusionista candidate Federico Errázuriz Zañartu, a Liberal. In domestic policy, the theological question came to poison relations between the parties of the fusión. In 1873, the Liberal-Conservative alliance broke up over the issue of education, with the Conservative minister responsible for public instruction wishing to permit more ‘freedom of education’ (more powers to Catholic private schools). The Liberals became the dominant force, in alliance with the Radicals, who were anti-clerical and committed to constitutional reform to reduce presidential powers and allow more civil liberties. The last years of Errázuriz’s presidency brought major constitutional reforms: reducing the quorum for both houses of Congress, electoral reform (1874), recognition of the right of assembly and limits on the President’s power to declare a state of siege. Between 1876 and 1886, the Liberals ruled in coalition with the Radicals.

Chile faced an economic crisis in the late 1870s. Chilean wheat exports faced tough competition from more centrally located Argentina as well as Russia and Canada, as lost the Californian market. The nascent copper mining industry also faced tough foreign competition and high production costs. The nitrate industry which would make Chile’s fortune until the 1920s was not yet fully developed, and the saltpeter deposits in the Atacama Desert were still under Peruvian and Bolivian sovereignty. Chilean expansionist desires and a thirst to gain access to the mineral-rich region clashed with Peruvian and Bolivian economic nationalism, and war was inevitable. Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), and subsequently annexed the contested mineral-rich regions. The loss of Bolivia’s access to the sea continues to arouse deep anti-Chilean resentments in Bolivia (and Peru, to a lesser extent) to this day; Bolivia still claims the lost territory and ‘recovery’ of its access to the sea is a symbolic priority for successive Bolivian governments.

The victory in the War of the Pacific led to the nitrate/saltpeter boom, with the country’s economy and treasury becoming dependent on nitrate exports (nitrate could be used as a fertilizer or for ammunition). European, primarily British, investors came to control a vast majority of the nitrate industry. The growth of the mining industry, first with nitrate and later with copper, expanded the governing elite. Unlike in other Latin American countries, there was a successful ‘marriage’ of the traditional landowning class and the new mining and manufacturing elites, with family ties between the various sectors of the economy. The mining boom also led to the appearance of an organized working-class in the waning days of the nineteenth century. Unlike in Argentina, the Chilean working-class was native-born, not foreign-born. This key difference would mean that Chilean workers had direct access to political action.

President Domingo Santa María (1881-1886) clashed with Rome over the nomination of the Archbishop of Santiago and between 1883 and 1885, his government passed a number of landmark ‘leyes laicas‘ which reduced the Church’s power. These laws included secular cemeteries (previously, non-Catholics could be barred from burial in Catholic cemeteries), the civil registry of births and deaths and civil marriage (which made it possible for non-Catholics to contract a valid marriage).

José Manuel Balmaceda became President of Chile in 1886. Balmaceda intended to leave his mark on Chile and take a much more active role in the management of the country. His main objectives included an ambitious campaign of public works, economic development, economic diversification and the unification of the fractious liberal movement into a single party. However, Balmaceda’s activism displeased Congress, which had been intent on establishing its hegemony over the executive branch. His desire to raise funds for public works project by raising taxes on mining in the north and his wish to break the foreign monopoly in the railways won him the enmity of mine owners and foreign capital.

When a new railroad in Argentina facilitated cattle exports from the Argentine pampas to Chile and lowered meat prices in Chile, Chilean landowners proposed to place a tariff on Argentine beef imports. This proposal raised the ire of Santiago’s lower middle-class of skilled workers, artisans and small merchants who united to oppose the bill (which was also opposed by mine owners). In Santiago, the lower middle-classes were mobilized by the Democrat Party (Partido Demócrata), a splinter of the Radical Party founded in 1887 which took a deeper interest in the socioeconomic conditions of the working-classes and artisans. The Democrat Party never achieved major electoral success, but its victory on the tariff issue and its articulation of mass demands showed how far Chile had come on the road towards mass politics.

In the meantime, Congress clashed with Balmaceda and his government founds its efforts frustrated by congressional opposition. According to the latest interpretation of the 1833 constitution, a president’s cabinet needed the confidence of both houses of Congress, which Balmaceda no longer enjoyed. The situation worsened in October 1890 as Balmaceda formed a cabinet led by Claudio Vicuña, who was seen as Balmaceda’s hand-picked successor for the presidency. Congress failed to produce a budget for 1891, prompting Balmaceda to extend the previous year’s appropriations. This was the last straw for Congressional leaders, who joined forces with the rebellious navy (the army remained pro-presidential). Between January and September 1891, the presidential and congressional forces – backed by the army and navy respectively – fought a civil war which claimed up to 10,000 lives and resulted in the rout of Balmaceda’s supporters and his eventual suicide at the Argentine embassy in September 1891.

Parliamentary Republic (1891-1925)

The civil war marked the end of the Liberal Republic and the beginning of the Parliamentary Republic in Chilean history, an era which would last to 1925. The President found his powers seriously circumscribed by Congress; the President and his cabinet was now responsible to Congress, which brought down cabinet after cabinet.

Partly as a result of this parliamentary system, which was unusual in a continent largely dominated by presidential systems modeled on the United States, Chile developed a stronger, impersonal party system in which parties were slightly more ideological (although differences were thin) and far less dominated by single caudillos (although personality still won over ideas in the parties); this proved a stark contrast with countries such as Brazil, Peru, Paraguay and later Argentina.

The multiparty system in Chile undermined the stability of the new parliamentary republic: parties proliferated to five by the turn of the century, with the Liberals, Conservatives, Nationals, Radicals and Liberal Democrats (the balmacedista party). A unión sagrada between the Liberals, Radicals and Conservatives quickly broke up (by 1894). Coalitions and alliances of parties, themselves unstable and fractious, became key in the new congressional-dominated political system. The Conservatives formed the Coalición, while factions of the Liberals and the Radicals formed the Alianza Liberal. The lines between coalitions were blurred, however. The Liberals were divided, with some elements joining the Conservatives in the Coalition and others allying with the Radicals in the anti-clerical and progressive Liberal Alliance. The Nationals and Liberal Democrats (ironically, the advocates of presidentialism proved the masters of the Machiavellian world of coalition politics) went back and forth between the two blocs, adding to the instability. President Federico Errázuriz, a Liberal and second President of the Parliamentary Republic (1891-1901), was elected President, backed by the Coalition, with a three vote majority in the electoral college against a Liberal candidate backed by the Liberal-Radical coalition.

Presidents were forced to form cabinets (with the Minister of the Interior acting as a sort of ‘Prime Minister’) which corresponded to whichever coalition controlled Congress. Given that coalitions never lasted their full terms, changes in coalition politics led to cabinets falling. Under the presidency of Germán Riesco (1901-1906), no less than seventeen cabinets came and went. Despite having been elected with the backing of Liberal Alliance, was compelled to govern with the Coalition between 1902 and 1904 after the Liberal Democrats briefly abandoned the Liberal Alliance. This chronic instability meant the the President was weak, unable to take bold policy actions.

Economically, the years until 1914 saw economic growth and the development of infrastructure (the Transandine Railway with Argentina, for example) on the back of the saltpeter industry. A new smelting process right after 1900 allowed the Chilean copper mining industry to take off. Gradually, copper came to replace nitrates as Chile’s main export, especially during the 1920s. The shift from nitrate to copper also led to major changes in the economic structure of the country, which would have capital importance on the country’s history. The copper mines were owned by a few American mining companies (Anaconda Copper and Kennecott Copper). The Americans displaced the British as the main foreign investors, and the US became Chile’s main export partner. The control of the copper industry by a few American-based companies meant that it provided little stimulus for the rest of the economy: heavy reliance on capital and technology meant modest levels of employment for Chilean workers, most equipment was imported and most profits were sent to the US rather than invested in Chile. Nationalist resentment would begin to grow as a result.

During the first decade of the new century, the rise of working-class activism meant that the old theological question was supplanted by the ‘social question’ as the main focal point of political debate. The rural exodus and industrialization led to poverty, unsanitary living conditions, overpopulation of urban areas and a high mortality rate. In the mines, working conditions were atrocious and extremely dangerous, an issue which did not preoccupy mine owners and the aristocratic elite much. Indeed, the political system until the 1920s remained heavily elitist in character. The two main blocs, divided by personal squabbles rather than ideology, only represented different factions of the wider elite: the Conservatives representing landowners and the Church, the Liberals and Radicals representing the industrial and commercial elites. The government was hostile to working-class activism and showed little concern with the conditions of the working-classes (Sunday rest was introduced only in 1907). Seeing strikes and protests as revolutionary challenges, the government used force to respond to such movements. In 1905, protests against a new tariff on Argentine beef imports degenerated into a riot. In 1907, a miners’ strike in Iquique ended in a bloody massacre. Trade unions and mutual aid societies grew in the late 1900s and early 1910s, and the Socialist Worker’s Party (Partido Obrero Socialista, POS), founded in 1912, became the first lasting socialist party in Chile. In 1922, the POS became the Communist Party of Chile (Partido Comunista de Chile, PCCh)

World War I and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 led to an economic decline in the country, although the Allied demand for nitrates (used in ammunition) later led to an economic boom which lasted throughout the war years and compensated the loss of German markets. During the war years, the government also showed itself slightly more concerned by the social question, although largely as a means of undercutting rising militancy. Congress passed workmen’s compensation (1916), employer’s liability (1917) and a retirement system for railway workers (1919). Economic growth during the war, however, strengthened labour’s hand and by 1917 the labour movement became even more influential and strikes more violent. 1919 saw high levels of labour mobilization, and the government began intervening in labour conflicts, sometimes on the side of labour.

Arturo Alessandri, President of Chile, and his dog ‘Ulk’ (source: Wikimedia)

Some sectors of the elite – the most enlightened factions of the Liberals and Radicals – saw the impotency of the oligarchic elite and opened the door to middle-class and working-class participation in politics. In 1920, Arturo Alessandri, the candidate the Liberal Alliance (‘doctrinaire’ Liberals, Radicals and Democrats), attempted to build an alliance of the middle-classes and working-class on a platform which promised labour reforms and a stronger executive and was critical of the oligarchy. Alessandri lost the popular vote to Luis Barros Borgoño, the candidate backed by the Conservatives, moderate Liberals, Nationals and some Liberal Democrats. However, Alessandri won the electoral college vote 179 to 175 and was elected President.

Alessandri, like many of his successors, failed to live up to his ambitious agenda. Alessandri faced mounting labour unrest with the economic crisis and had to deal with the hostility of the oligarchy in Congress. Although he originally sided with labour in labour conflicts, within a few months of his election in 1921, he opted for the employers. Nevertheless, Alessandri’s proposals for a major labour code and social welfare package got bogged down in Congress, controlled by forces hostile to reform. The deadlock displeased both organized labour and the young officers of the military officers corps who, in September 1924, took matters into their own hands. During a session of Congress which discussed remuneration of congressmen, young military officers protested their low salaries by rattling their sabres (literally). The next day, a “military committee” presented Alessandri with their demands, which included passage of labour legislation and the dismissal of three ministers. Alessandri appointed General Luis Altamirano as Minister of the Interior, and facing such pressure, Congress quickly approved labour legislation which included an eight-hour workday, banning child labour, regulation of collective bargaining, workplace safety regulations and the legalization of trade unions (subject to close government supervision). But Alessandri felt as if he was losing his fight within the military and resigned as President, and left for exile in Italy.

Presidential Republic (1925-1952)

Altamirano’s junta was unstable and the young officers who had put him there soon rebelled when they felt that Altamirano had betrayed the ideals of their September 1924 revolt and began clamoring for Alessandri’s return. In January 1925, another coup take place and pro-Alessandri young officers formed a new junta. In March 1925, Alessandri returned to the presidency with the goal of writing a new constitution. In September 1925, a new constitution was approved by voters. The new constitution, which was Alessandri’s brainchild, created a presidential republic in which the President, now directly elected by voters to a six-year term, saw his powers strengthened. Ministers were no longer responsible to Congress, the legislative and executive branches were separated (ministers could not serve in Congress) and Church and state were separated.

Alessandri’s government cracked down on labour opposition. Protests in nitrate mining towns in March and June 1925 led to massacres, in which up to 2,000 workers were killed by the army.

Alessandri came to resent the growing power of his ambitious war minister, Carlos Ibáñez, a leader of the 1924 and 1925 coups. In October 1925, Alessandri resigned the presidency and the first direct presidential was held later that month. Emiliano Figueroa Larraín, backed by all the old parties and with Ibáñez’s blessing and endorsement, easily won the ensuing election with 71.5% against a candidate backed by the Communists and socialists. The new president was weak and became widely perceived as Ibáñez’s tool. In May 1927, after Ibáñez had exiled the President’s brother, he resigned and Ibáñez became interim President (as Minister of the Interior). Ibáñez was elected President in his own right later in 1927.

Carlos Ibáñez broke with the rather democratic (to an extent) traditions of Chile and exercised dictatorial powers. Opponents were jailed or exiled, he gained full control of Congress by nominating the parties’ candidates himself and he ruled by decree. The good economic climate of the late 1920s around the world cemented his power for some time; through foreign loans, he was able to expand the size of government and embark on large public works projects. A populist leader, Ibáñez passed some social legislation including a new labour code. However, the Great Depression of 1929 – which sent nitrate and copper prices crashing – hit Chile extremely hard, resulting in high unemployment and a reawakening of popular unrest. The government’s measures against the depression, including attempts to create a national cartel to sell nitrates abroad, proved unsuccessful. In July 1931, following large student protests, Ibáñez was forced to resign.

Chile entered a period of political instability following Ibáñez’s resignation. President Juan Esteban Montero (right-wing Radical), elected to the presidency in October 1931 over Alessandri, was a weak leader and his austerity policies were unpopular in restless times. He faced down a naval mutiny in August-September 1931, but after less than a year in office, he was overthrown by a military coup in June 1932. The coup’s ringleaders, including Marmaduke Grove, proclaimed a Socialist Republic which promised major social reforms (a savings and loans banks for low-income Chileans, stopped evictions, 36-hour workweek, wealth tax) but lasted only a few days as it was internally divided and met with much opposition (including from the Communists). Carlos Dávila, a coup leader who supported Ibáñez, overthrew the socialist leadership and seized power. In September 1932, a counter-coup overthrew Dávila.

Arturo Alessandri, backed by a centrist coalition of Liberals, Radicals and Democrats, triumphed in the October 1932 presidential election with 54.8% against 17.7% for Marmaduke Grove, backed by socialist groups. A year later, various socialist groups united to form the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS), which adopted a revolutionary and Marxist platform but presented itself as an alternative to the dogmatic and sectarian Communists (who were marginalized because of Moscow’s ‘class against class’ directives).

Alessandri was no longer the fiery battler of his earlier days and his government were very conservative. Alessandri’s second presidency, however, saw the slow recovery of the country from the depression and the chaos of 1931-1932. Alessandri cracked down on opposition – be it military, leftist, Nazi or nationalist. Militias which had Alessandri’s blessing participated in the repression of opposition until their self-dissolution in 1936. The Radicals, reorienting towards the left, broke with Alessandri’s right-wing government in 1934. In February 1936, Alessandri declared a state of siege and temporarily closed Congress. Economically, Alessandri and his ultra-orthodox finance minister Gustavo Ross drastically reduced public spending and reduced the size of the state after Ibáñez’s expansion. With the recovery of demand for Chilean minerals, the economy grew, unemployment dropped considerably and the foreign debt was cut by 31%.

The 1938 presidential election was a highly polarized contest. Following the Comintern’s orders, the Communist Party adopted the Popular Front strategy, seeking broad alliances with the democratic bourgeois parties and non-proletarian groups to counter fascism. The Radicals, who had moved leftwards under Alessandri’s presidency, were the first to accept the Communists’ offer and a Frente Popular (FP) coalition was formed in May 1936. The Socialists joined the FP in 1938. Pedro Aguirre Cerda, a Radical (who had opposed the FP strategy), was nominated as the FP’s candidate after Marmaduke Grove, the PS favourite, dropped out. The Liberals and Conservatives, both of them very similar right-wing parties by this point, supported Gustavo Ross, Alessandri’s very orthodox finance minister who was reviled by the left. Some young Conservatives (Eduardo Frei Montalva), from the social Christian faction of the party, opposed the decision and founded the Falange Nacional, a party which originally praised Salazar and Dollfuβ. Former President Carlos Ibáñez, who still had a dedicated base of supporters, was also in the race, backed by an heterogeneous coalition which included the Nazis (the MNS had won 3.5% and 3 seats in the Chamber in 1937) and pro-Grove PS dissidents.

In early September, two months before the election, a group of young ibañista Nazis staged a coup attempt to overthrow Alessandri and install Ibáñez as dictator. Alessandri called in the military, who captured and kill 59 Nazis, perhaps on the President’s direct orders. The ‘massacre of the Seguro Obrero’ created a firestorm which hurt Alessandri and his candidate. Ibáñez dropped out of the race and endorsed the FP candidate. Pedro Aguirre Cerda won the election by only 4,000 votes over Ross.

There was nothing revolutionary about Aguirre Cerda’s Radical-led government, which included three Socialist ministers (including Salvador Allende as Minister of Health) but no Communist members. The FP government soon found itself worn down by tensions between the Socialists and Communists, divided by theoretical disagreements and competition for a similar electorate. The Communists and Socialists distanced themselves from the Radical government, with the Socialists shutting the door to the FP in 1940. The Communists made major gains in the 1941 congressional elections, winning 14% and 16 seats, up from only 4% in 1937.

Notwithstanding these internal divides, the government was relatively successful. Aguirre Cerda’s government supported government intervention in the economy (along social democratic or Keynesian principles) and import substitution industrialization (ISI) which was in vogue in South America around that time (and later). A teacher by trade, Aguirre Cerda promoted education and opened new regular and technical schools. His most memorable contribution to history was the creation of the Production Development Corporation (CORFO) in 1939, after the Chillán earthquake. CORFO, which still exists, aimed to promote economic growth and sovereignty, reconstruction and the development of basic industries through investments. CORFO helped establish state-owned oil, energy and steel companies.

Aguirre Cerda faced opposition from the right and the more fascistic of Ibáñez’s supporters. In August 1939, General Ariosto Herera attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the government and install Ibáñez.

Aguirre Cerda died in office of tuberculosis in November 1941, and new elections were held in February 1942. Juan Antonio Ríos, representing the conservative wing of the Radicals, narrowly defeated the left-leaning Radical Gabriel González Videla in the Radical primaries. His opponent was Carlos Ibáñez, who this time received the backing of the traditional right-wing forces – the Conservatives and the majority of the Liberals. On the left, the Socialists and Communists, both on bad terms with the Radicals, were at best lukewarm towards Ríos’ candidacy and tried to do their own thing. However, up again Ibáñez, who was widely perceived as a fascist/authoritarian threat by the left, both the PS and PCCh made their peace with the Radicals and reluctantly endorsed Ríos, forming a makeshift Democratic Alliance. Ríos’ candidacy was also endorsed by the social Christian Falange Nacional, the agrarians and above all former Liberal President Arturo Alessandri and his supporters in the Liberal Party (Ibáñez being Alessandri’s arch-enemy). With such backing, Ríos easily won, with 56% against 44% for Ibáñez.

Ríos, as promised, formed a broad government with Radicals, Liberals, Socialists and members of other parties. On the diplomatic front, Ríos’ government was confronted with Chile’s problematic neutrality in World War II. Chile declared war, on Japan only, on April 11, 1945 – but Chilean sympathies under Ríos were with the Allies, having broken diplomatic ties with the Axis in early 1943. The United States fixed a discounted price for Chilean nitrates, which caused Chile to lose over $500 million. On domestic issues, he continued his predecessor’s policy of ISI and desarrollismo, although he dealt with a weaker economy and inflation.

Ríos’ government was undermined by partisan instability. The Socialists split over the issue of participation in government at their congress in 1943, where the anti-government faction led by Salvador Allende defeated a pro-government wing led by Marmaduke Grove, who left the PS to form his own party (the Authentic Socialist Party, PSA). The Communists criticized Ríos for his policy of neutrality and failure to declare war on the Axis. The right, particularly the Conservatives, felt that Ríos was being held hostage by the left. Ríos faced serious troubles within his own party, who disliked his broad government with the Liberals. In 1944, the Radicals issued a series of unacceptable demands on Ríos’ government, and he was left without any reliable base of support. The Radicals, Chile’s ultimate middle-of-the-road party, was finding itself torn – for the umpteenth time – between left and right. After being victorious in the 1944 municipal elections, the Democratic Alliance suffered loses in the 1945 congressional elections, winning only 41.8% to the right’s 45.7%. The Socialists, worn down by the split in party ranks, lost the most (-9 seats) but the Radicals and Communists lost ground as well.

Ríos, who had terminal cancer, withdrew from office in favour of his Minister of the Interior, the anticommunist Radical Alfredo Duhalde, in January 1946. He died in June 1946. During Duhalde’s interim presidency, the police cracked down on a strike in Santiago, killing six workers.

The 1946 presidential election was more open ended than ever. The Radicals were split, again, between left (Gabriel González Videla) and right (Duhalde), but with the right walking out, Gabriel González Videla was nominated as the Radical candidate, and received the the Communists’ endorsement and unofficial backing from Socialists. The Conservatives and the Falangists nominated Eduardo Cruz-Coke, the Liberals and right-wing Radicals (PRD) were behind Fernando Alessandri (Arturo Alessandri’s son and a Liberal senator) while the Socialists – on bad terms with the Communists – officially nominated anticommunist union leader Bernardo Ibáñez, although many Socialists backed González Videla and Grove’s PSA endorsed Alessandri. Gabriel González Videla won a plurality of the vote, 40.2%, against 29.8% for Cruz-Coke, 27.4% for Alessandri and only 2.5% for the PS candidate. In the absence of any winner with an absolute majority, the Congress, as per the constitution, would choose from the top two candidates. González Videla attracted Liberal, Falangist, Socialist and Communist votes and won 138 votes to Cruz-Coke’s 46 votes.

Gabriel González Videla’s government made history because the Communists, for the first time in the Americas, entered government with three ministers, but the Liberals were also represented. The Communists’ strength combined with the new Cold War arithmetic alarmed anticommunist public opinion. In the 1947 municipal elections, the Communists won a record 16.5% of the vote (more than the Liberals), sending the old parties into a frenzy. The Liberals demanded that the President dismiss the Communists from government, which he did. Like in France and Italy, the Communists’ withdrawal from government in 1947 marked the definite end of Popular Front-type alliances between communism and the ‘bourgeois’ democrats. The Communists became implacable foes of the Radical government, and mounted large general strikes in key industries against the government while the government denounced the Communists as the causes of political instability.

Under pressure from Washington, the government pushed Congress to adopt the Ley de Defensa Permanente de la Democracia (or ley maldita) which banned the Communists, struck their sympathizers from the rolls and banned them from running or holding office. The law, although approved by most parties (the right, most Radicals and Socialists, agrarians), stirred much controversy. The Socialists split over the issue (the anticommunists retaining the name PS, the pro-communists becoming the PSP), as did the Radicals but also the Conservatives (between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘social Christians’). After the fact, the President formed a Concentración Nacional cabinet with Radicals, Liberals, traditionalist Conservatives and the small Democratic Party. The Concentración Nacional right-wing alliance triumphed in the 1949 congressional elections over an opposition alliance of Falangists, Socialists, the PRD and the Agrarian Labour Party.

The Minister of Finance, Jorge Alessandri (another son of the former President), pursued orthodox austerity policies which displeased the Radicals who wanted pay increases for public servants (to reap their votes). When the Radicals backed a public servants’ strike, the Liberals and Conservatives left cabinet in early 1950. The President formed a government with the Social Christians and Falangists.

Mass Politics (1952-1970)

Carlos Ibáñez, who in 1948 had been involved in a military conspiracy, returned for one last shot at the presidency in 1952. Ibáñez, unlike in 1942, had little partisan backing – in his coalition, only the agrarians and the PSP were of any relevance – but he ran a populist and nationalist campaign in which he presented himself as the “general of hope” who would save Chile and root out corruption with his symbolic broom. He faced Arturo Matte, the joint Liberal and traditionalist Conservative candidate; Pedro Enrique Alfonso, backed by the Radicals, Social Christians and Falangists; and Salvador Allende, the candidate of the Frente del Pueblo alliance of the PS and the proscribed Communists. Appealing to all, but particularly the right and centre, Ibáñez won 46.8% against 27.8% for Matte, 20% for the Radical candidate and 5.5% for Allende.

Ibáñez’s second term was less successful than his first. By 1952-1958, Ibáñez was old and ailing, and delegated governance to his cabinet. He also lacked a strong support base in Congress, his supporters having failed to obtain a majority in the 1953 congressional elections despite doing fairly well. In 1955, the PSP withdrew from government and patched up with the PS. Things were complicated by rising inflation and the perceived failure of Radical ISI and desarrollismo. Ibáñez wanted to continue his populist policies, but was forced to look abroad for help for Chile’s economic woes. An American economic mission and the IMF prescribed neoliberal reforms, including easing trade barriers, removing subsidies and ending the automatic indexation of salaries. Ibáñez accepted only a few of their recommendations, but rising utility and public transit prices were unpopular. In Santiago, student protests against public transit fare hikes claimed 20 lives and material damages.

Some ibañistas still wanted Ibáñez to entrench himself as dictator, perhaps emulating his close ally Juan Perón in Argentina. Some military officers, perhaps pushed by Perón, created plans for a self-coup by the President and Ibáñez entertained them, but as always, he didn’t seem to care enough about anything to act on it.

Ibáñez had promised to repeal the ley maldita in his presidential campaign. He waited until the end of his term, in 1958, to actually do so. In the meantime, the Communists had moderated and talked of conquering power through democratic means – in alliance with the Socialists.

Ibáñez’s bizarre ‘general of salvation’ phase having ended in failure, Chile entered a period of polarized mass politics after 1958. This era was closely disputed elections, rising left-right polarization (especially after 1970), a growing electorate and a generally solid democracy. The 1958 election set the stage for the years to come.

Jorge Alessandri, the son of the former President and an independent right-winger, reluctantly agreed to run and received the backing of the right – the Liberals and Conservatives (and other minor parties), despite some Liberal misgivings about Alessandri’s candidacy. Alessandri went up against the left and the centre. In 1957, the Falangists and what remained of the Social Christians merged to form the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC), a centrist and Christian democratic party which advocated a ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism and was founded on social Christian principles, which had been influential in the Conservative Party since the early 1900s. Eduardo Frei Montalva, a co-founder of the Falange in the 1930s and former cabinet minister, was the PDC candidate. On the left, the Socialists and the Communists (now legalized) formed a broader coalition with smaller left-wing groups (including the PSP), known as the Frente de Acción Popular (FRAP). Salvador Allende, the long-time Socialist politician and medical doctor, was the FRAP’s candidate. The Radicals nominated Luis Bossay, who ran on a centrist platform supporting ISI and desarrollismo. The election was extremely narrow: Alessandri won with a weak plurality of 31.6%, while Allende, who had led a strong campaign and confirmed himself as the face of the Marxist left, placed a close second with 28.9%. Frei placed a solid third with 20.7%, while the declining Radicals won only 15.6%. An independent leftist candidate won 3.3%; Allende might have won without him, and he might have been planted by the right to weaken Allende.

Alessandri’s election was confirmed by Congress, with Radical support. The Radicals, although absent from Alessandri’s right-wing Liberal and Conservative cabinet (until 1961), eventually became close allies of Alessandri’s government. After the Liberals and Conservatives lost ground in the 1961 congressional elections, Radical support was indispensable to block PDC and FRAP opposition measures (with Radical support, the two opposition parties could override vetoes).

Alessandri proposed a classically conservative solution to Chile’s growing problems. Alessandri believed in free enterprise and free markets, and opposed the idea of a ‘paternalist state’. He felt that the state should limit itself to investing in infrastructures necessary to attract foreign and private investment. He reduced public spending, devalued the currency (fixed exchange rate with the dollar) and reduced tariffs. His policies, welcomed by the US but unpopular with Chilean lower classes, were somewhat successful in reducing inflation (down to 8% in 1961). However, the government’s mellow moves to convince American-owned copper companies to invest more of their profits locally were unsuccessful and the left demanded that copper be nationalized. Alessandri’s policies were complicated by the Great Chilean Earthquake (and tsunami) in May 1960 (the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, 9.5 magnitude) which killed over 3,000 people.

His government made some early moves on agrarian reform and launched large public works projects. Chilean agriculture remained quasi-feudal up into the 1960s, and both the right and left came to see the latifundios (and minifundios) as a drag on the economy. While the FRAP wanted fast-tracked agrarian reform, the right was more concerned about agrarian reform for the sake of increasing agricultural productivity, which had contracted since the 1950s. In 1962, Congress passed a law allowing the state to acquire land (and redistribute it) in return for compensation to landowners. The left found it ludicrously inadequate, but it was backed by the Catholic Church (which redistributed some of its own landholdings) and President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. With the Cuban revolution and the Cuban threat, the US started taking an active interest in Chile’s polarized and ideological politics.

As political interest shifted to Alessandri’s succession in 1964, the right formed the Democratic Front, composed of the Liberals, Conservatives and Radicals (who were the strongest party). The Democratic Front put forward the presidential candidacy of Julio Durán, a right-wing and anticommunist Radical, despite some Liberal and Conservative misgivings about bowing down to the Radicals’ numerical superiority. The conservative coalition emphasized anticommunism and the defense of democracy. In the 1963 municipal elections, the right won 46% of the vote, remaining the largest force ahead of the FRAP (30%) and PDC (23%). However, Durán’s candidacy took a hit in March 1964, following a by-election in the rural Conservative stronghold of Curicó. There, the PS-FRAP candidate won 39.7% against 33% for the Conservative candidate and 27.4% for the PDC. It became clear to the Liberals, Conservatives and the US that, with the non-leftist vote divided between Frei (PDC) and Durán (right), Allende could very well eek out a plurality win. The Liberals and Conservatives abandoned the Radicals and scurried to join up with Frei and the PDC, seen as the lesser evil against Allende.

Eduardo Frei, 1964 (source: PDC website)

The 1964 election was another election with stark differences between the candidates. Eduardo Frei, the PDC leader backed by the Liberals and Conservatives, campaigned on the platform of a “Revolution in Liberty” (a thinly-veiled jab at the left, depicted as revolution in dictatorship), promised agrarian reform and the “Chileanization” of the copper industry and rejected both economic liberalism and socialism. Allende, the FRAP candidate, wanted a pacific transition to socialism and a repudiation of capitalism and imperialism. Frei also led a ‘red scare’ campaign which played heavily on fears of “another Cuba” and the Soviet Union. The US took a strong and direct interest in the campaign; both because Frei was the last bulwark against “another Cuba” and his reformist Christian democratic agenda represented a promising alternative. The CIA spent over $2 million on Frei’s campaigned and paid for half of his campaign expenses, unbeknownst to the candidate. The Church Committee Report later showed that the US spent millions in covert actions in Chile to oppose the FRAP, with the US funding the PDC, the Radicals and the right-wing parties or funding various groups and media organizations.

It might have been overkill. Frei won a landslide, scoring 56.1% of the vote against 39.8% for Allende (still a sizable gain from 1958) and 5% for Durán, backed only by the Radicals. Frei’s landslide indicated the coalescing of the right around him, but also the popularity of his very reformist and ambitious agenda. Durán’s result, on the other hand, showed the repudiation of Alessandri’s conservative policies. In the 1965 congressional elections, only a few months after Frei’s election, the PDC won a landslide victory with 43.6% and an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The FRAP did well enough with some small gains and 27.8%, but the Liberals, Conservatives and Radicals collapsed completely. The Liberals and Conservatives both won less than 10% of the vote, and only 6 and 3 seats each.

In May 1966, after the 1965 defeat, the Liberals and Conservatives (and a small ibañista party) merged to form the National Party (Partido Nacional, PN). Some of the PN’s values, such as nationalism, praise for the armed forces, criticism of parliamentary democracy and parties and rhetorical orientation towards “the middle-classes” (instead of the upper classes and business) and “work ethic” would find their way towards Pinochet’s political thoughts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Frei put his promises into practice, and his record was not negligible but because the results of his reforms failed to live up to high expectations, the “Revolution in Liberty” was not hailed as a success and hit a dead end in 1970. Frei’s government expanded the availability of education, built public housing and encouraged the growth of social groups and cooperatives (in line with the PDC’s communitarian ideology and as a bid to counter the left’s power in unions). The US actively supported the regime, either through open aid from the US government or multilateral agencies (World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank) or through covert financial support for Chilean anti-leftist groups and parties.

Frei’s two most important actions, however, came with respect to the hot button issues of the day: copper and agrarian reform. In 1967, Congress passed two laws – one allowing for peasant unionization and farmers’ syndicates, the other an agrarian reform law which replaced Alessandri’s law. Frei’s agrarian reform law allowed for the expropriation of large estates which were too big (over 80 ha or its equivalent), owned by corporations, abandoned or improperly operated. 3.5 million ha were expropriated, and 28,000 new farm owners. But this number fell short of the PDC’s goal of 100,000 new owners by 1970, and the left continued to demand more action. In the countryside, landless peasants began occupying and seizing land.

Frei wanted to take a moderate approach to the issue of copper. The issue was not whether copper should be in Chilean hands – economic nationalism ran deep, even on the right – but how the state should proceed. Unwilling to create strains with foreign investors and the US, Frei chose a centrist solution: Chile would buy shares in the companies, created mixed companies, while the mining companies would compelled to invest the proceeds from the sale of shares in new processing facilities. In 1965, after the PDC made its “Chileanization” of copper the main issue in the congressional elections, Congress approved Frei’s Chileanization law. In 1969, the government reached an agreement with Anaconda and Kennecott, the two American giants (la gran minería). Chile bought a 51% share in Kennecott’s El Teniente mine and Anaconda’s Chuquicamata mine, with a minority share in Anaconda’s other mines. However, mining production only increased by 10% and most of the rising export profits (due to an increase in world prices) went to the companies.

Frei’s Revolution in Liberty ultimately failed because he was unable to deal with a bad economy and political opposition. Inflation increased rapidly under Frei’s presidency, and the slow pace of Frei’s reformist policies disillusioned those on the left who wanted radical and rapid change and met with the right’s opposition, who disliked Frei’s economic interventionism and alleged ‘anti-patriotism’. The military was showing signs of unease; in October 1969, Frei faced a brief military insurrection (Tacnazo) and was forced to concede pay increases to the generals. Politically, the right (which had backed Frei in 1964), became very critical opponents of Frei and the PDC. In the 1969 congressional elections, in which the PDC retained the most seats but lost its absolute majority, the PN was extremely critical of Frei, accusing him of being anti-patriotic. In that election, the PDC’s support fell to 30.8% while the FRAP won 30%, the PN 20.7% and the Radicals 13.5%. Within the PDC itself, the leftist faction in the party, led by Radomiro Tomic, opposed Frei’s moderate policies and advocated for a leftist agenda close to that of Allende.

Allende and the ‘transition to socialism’ (1970-1973)

The frontrunner for the 1970 presidential election was Jorge Alessandri, the former conservative president who was backed by the National Party and Democracia Radical, Julio Durán’s right-wing split off from the Radicals. However, Alessandri, who was 74 in 1970, led a low key campaign and there were rumours that he was senile and suffering from Parkinson’s. The US was apparently certain that Alessandri would win, so the US/CIA took no direct role in funding Alessandri’s campaign. However, declassified documents have shown that Alessandri lobbied the CIA for financial assistance. His campaign received about $350,000 from International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT), which owned the Chilean telephone company at the time. The CIA spent about a million altogether in various covert anti-Allende activities in 1970.

The leftist FRAP expanded in 1969 to create the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity, UP), which included the Radicals (who had moved left), the PDC leftist splitoff Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitaria (MAPU) and the left-nationalist Acción Popular Independiente (API). Allende, however, struggled to impose himself as the UP’s candidate after three successive defeats and Socialist doubts about the viability of Allende’s moderate vía chilena al socialismo. Indeed, in 1967, the more radical wing, led by Carlos Altomirano, had gained the upper hand in the PS which defined itself as Marxist-Leninist and recognized armed struggle as a legitimate means to obtain power. Allende’s more moderate, democratic and pacifist option won out and he ran for the presidency a fourth (and final) time. Allende denounced the failures of Frei’s Revolution in Liberty, which the left considered as woefully inadequate and too pro-American. Instead, the UP offered a “Chilean way to socialism” which was democratic, pacifist and gradual – the socialist state would come via the democratic process and the rule of law. The CIA claimed that Allende’s campaign received $350,000 from Cuba and a slightly larger amount from the KGB and the Soviet Union.

The PDC nominated Radomiro Tomic, the representative of the party’s leftist faction who ultimately very much resembled Allende in his proposals (nationalization of copper, anti-capitalist). Tomic’s candidacy precluded any deal with the right, which besides had little interest in repeating the last-ditch alliance of 1964.

On September 4, Allende won 36.6% against 35.3% for Alessandri and 28.1% for Tomic. Many have wondered if Allende would have won if Chile had had the traditional two-round system in 1970: Allende only won a plurality of the votes, and a smaller percentage than in the 1964 election. Even if Tomic’s voters might have leaned left, it is doubtful that Allende would have been elected to the presidency had there been a runoff election. The UP never won an absolute majority of the vote, even at its peak in the 1971 municipal elections (where it came extremely close to 50%).

Given that he lacked an absolute majority of the votes, the election would be decided by Congress which would pick between the top two finishers. This had turned into a formality which confirmed the candidate who had won the most votes, but the uniqueness of the situation and Washington’s opposition to Allende complicated the process. Shortly after the election, President Richard Nixon made it known to the CIA that an Allende government would be unacceptable to the US. The CIA presented two plans: Track I and Track II (FUBELT). Track I intended to convince PDC congressmen to vote for Alessandri, who would then resign and allow Frei to run for ‘reelection’ legally. However, Tomic (who had a secret pact with the UP) recognized Allende’s victory and Frei opposed this gambit and it fell through. With Track II, the US sought to directly organize a military coup which would prevent Allende from taking office. The plot was to kidnap General René Schneider, the legalist/constitutionalist Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army, attribute the plot to the left and provoke a coup. However, the plan failed on October 22, when the bungled kidnapping attempt actually resulted in the kidnappers killing Schneider. Allende was elected by Congress on October 24, with 153 votes to Alessandri’s 35.

Allende’s economic plan for a Chilean transition to socialism included the nationalization of strategic industries, the nationalization of copper, accelerated agrarian reform, price freeze, wage increases and constitutional reform to create a unicameral people’s legislature. At the outset, there was optimism and polarization was still fairly low, allowing for compromises with the PDC (the UP did not have even a plurality in Congress). Coal, steel, most private banks and other key industrial sectors were nationalized early in Allende’s presidency. Action was also quick to come on another landmark UP promise: the nationalization of copper. A law nationalizing la gran minería was passed unanimously by Congress in July 1971 – a sign of how deep economic nationalism ran in Chile, even on the right, and how Frei’s Chileanization policy had been perceived as a failure. The mining companies were to be compensated, however Allende’s government subtracted what it called “excessive profit” from the calculation of compensations which meant that neither Anaconda or Kennecott were compensated (in fact, Allende claimed that they owed Chile millions).

This decision incensed Nixon, who had been determined from the start to make the Chilean economy “scream”, and the US mounted an invisible blockade of Chile. Total US economic aid went from $80.8 million in 1969 to $8.6 million in 1971 and $3.8 million in 1973. World Bank loans were withheld and Inter-American Development Bank aid dried up, from $46 million in 1970 to $2 million in 1972. In the days which followed Allende’s election in September 1970, companies had already started laying off workers and sending capital abroad. American firms like ITT and Nestlé supported their government’s covert actions to strangle the Chilean economy.

In the first year, Allende’s redistributive policies were fairly successful. The price freezes and 40-60% wage increases boosted consumer buying and did not originally create inflation: in 1971, the GDP grew by 8%, inflation fell to 22%, employment increased and industrial growth reached 12%. Social security coverage was expanded, pensions were increased and the government provided half of Chilean children with half of litre of milk, free of charge, every day. Riding on this success, the UP won 49% in the 1971 municipal elections, the UP’s strongest result.

The UP used Frei’s agrarian reform law to speed up the process, with rapid expropriations of large estates. By September 1973, over 4000 properties had been expropriated (6.4 million ha): the latifundio structure which had dominated for centuries was dead. However, the agrarian reform unfolded chaotically and violently in the countryside: organized by revolutionaries, peasants seized over 2000 properties, landowners died defending their land and expropriations came too quickly to ensure that the services the new owners needed were there. It was the same thing in industrial relations: workers took matters into their own hands, occupying management offices until expropriations were announced.

By 1972, the economy went into a nose-dive. A lot of factors collided to create a catastrophic situation: the lack of foreign aid and investment from the US’ boycott, a sharp dip in copper prices worldwide (the Chilean economy being dependent on copper), a balance of payment deficit, new social policies created huge deficits, the government’s inflationary wage increases, the depletion of foreign exchange reserves by 1973, collapsing exports and rising imports. Deficits rose, inflation skyrocketed (the government was pumping money to cover the deficit) and food shortages became commonplace in 1972 and especially 1973. The government was also hurt by deliberate sabotages from merchants and landowners who wanted the UP government to fail.

The violence in the countryside foreshadowed the polarization of Chilean society as a whole after the successful first year. The UP and the broader left was divided between those who wanted a moderate, peaceful and democratic transition to socialism and those who advocated for rapid and revolutionary change. Allende, the Communists, the Radicals, a faction of MAPU and some Socialists supported a moderate way; the Communists wanted to find compromise with the PDC and warned against creating a violent environment. The radical wing of the Socialists, most of MAPU and the extra-parliamentary Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) wanted revolutionary change, including through violence if necessary. The MIR, founded in 1965, was closer to the revolutionary traditions of the post-Cuban Revolution Latin American left (Che Guevara): they felt that the only way to overthrow capitalism was through the armed struggle.

In June 1971, far-left terrorists (expelled from the MIR in 1969) assassinated Edmundo Pérez Zujovic, the PDC Minister of the Interior whom they held responsible for a massacre in Puerto Montt which killed 10 peasants who occupied an estate. Afterwards, the PDC broke off cooperation with the UP and formed a coalition with the PN, known as the Confederación de la Democracia (COFED). The COFED won two by-elections in January 1972 – a victory possible in part thanks to CIA financial support to right-wing candidates (the CIA funded the PDC and PN throughout Allende’s presidency). The COFED, which held a majority in Congress, became locked in a struggle with Allende’s government. It attempted to impeach Allende’s interior minister, held responsible for violence and it passed an amendment which nullified a 1932 decree with Allende was using to nationalize industries without congressional approval (Allende vetoed the bill). The language in the media became violent. Right-wing newspapers such as El Mercurio, which was extensively funded (perhaps even controlled) by the CIA, viciously attacked the UP; the left-wing media joined in, with equally as virulent attacks on the right. The far-right terrorist group Patria y Libertad, funded by the CIA, engaged in terrorist attacks against left-wing/governmental officials and public utilities.

The right took to the streets beginning with Fidel Castro’s controversial three-week visit to Chile in 1971. Nightly cacerolazos began to denounce Allende’s policies. By mid-1972, the situation had deteriorated further. In August 1972, one-day boycotts by shopkeepers protested the UP’s economic policies. Beginning in October 1972 and until September 1973, the country was paralyzed by a truckers’ strike, which may have been indirectly funded by the CIA. Other groups soon joined the truckers On the other hand, the UP could mobilize equally as impressive demonstrations in support of the President. Responding to this, in November 1972, Allende named three military officers to cabinet, including General Carlos Prats, the legalist Commander in Chief, as Minister of the Interior.

The March 1973 congressional elections confirmed the polarization. The COFED won 55.6% and retained an absolute majority in Congress, but the UP won a solid 44.1% and actually won more seats than it had in 1969. Within the UP, the Radicals, the ambiguous and opportunistic partner, collapsed to a mere 5 seats (23 in 1969). The PDC also lost, while the PN made minor gains. On these results, the COFED did not have the two-thirds majority it wanted to override vetoes and impeach Allende. Yet, it claimed victory on basis of retaining an absolute majority; while the UP claimed victory on account of registering substantial gains from 1969 and 1970. Allende tried to reach an agreement with the PDC; in this, he was backed by the Communists but the Socialists opposed any compromise with the PDC. Eduardo Frei and Patricio Aylwin, the PDC’s leaders, were also hostile towards Allende.

Allende was also locked in a judicial battle with the Supreme Court, which had invalidated several nationalizations. The UP refused to comply to the court’s orders.

General Carlos Prats, who was seen as the guarantor of the armed forces’ loyalty towards the elected government (following the ‘Schneider doctrine’), resigned from cabinet after the 1973 elections. The military was becoming increasingly divided, and talk of civil war increased. On June 29, 1973, Lt. Colonel Roberto Souper led an unsuccessful coup attempt (Tanquetazo). La Moneda, the presidential palace, was attacked by tanks. Pro-government troops led by Prats struck back and the revolt was crushed that same day. In late July, Allende’s naval aide-de-camp was assassinated by the far-right; a few days later, there were talks of dissent in the Navy and a potential coup attempt by naval officers. On August 9, Allende formed a new ‘military’ cabinet which included uniformed men: Prats returned as Minister of Defense.

In late August 1973, the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution condemning “grave violations of the constitutional and judicial order”, claiming that Allende sought to install a totalitarian regime. The next day, General Carlos Prats resigned as Commander in Chief, understanding that he had lost the support of the military. On his recommendation, he was replaced by General Augusto Pinochet, a soldier esteemed for his professionalism and apolitical stances.

By September 1973, the political system was deadlocked, the economy was on the verge of collapse (inflation at over 300%, salaries falling, 5% dip in GDP) and polarization of society was bordering on violence. To quell the situation, Allende gave in to the opposition’s demand that he hold a plebiscite on his politics; however, the UP’s radicals, including the PS, opposed any compromise. By September 10, defense minister Orlando Letelier had managed to convince the Socialists to agree to Allende’s plebiscite.

However, senior commanding officers in the military were conspiring to overthrow the government. The lead conspirators were General Gustavo Leigh, the Commander in Chief of the Air Force, and Vice Admiral José Toribio Merino; the military, conservative politicians, economists and some US Navy personnel had been regularly conspiring since 1972 at the least. By September, a number of PDC and PN members were calling on the armed forces to intervene to restore order. On September 9, Pinochet joined the conspiracy. Unlike in June, the coup had the backing of all branches of the armed forces and the police.

Unlike in 1970, the US was not directly involved in preparations for the coup, although the CIA had forewarning of the conspiracy by July 1973; however, Nixon was pleased by the coup and Henry Kissinger told him that if the US had not been involved, it had done everything it could to make the coup successful. The Nixon administration had spent millions between 1970 and 1973 in covert actions to wreck the UP government.

On the morning of September 11, 1973, the armed forces took control of the major port city of Valparaíso and the coup succeeded throughout Chile, except Santiago, with barely any opposition. Informed of a coup, Allende headed to La Moneda in Santiago, where he would entrench himself until the end. Allende refused the new military junta’s demands that he step down immediately and later turned down offers from the military offering him safe passage abroad. Upon his refusal to surrender, tanks opened fire and La Moneda was bombed by fighter planes. By early afternoon, Allende committed suicide and the junta had seized power.

Military dictatorship (1973-1988)

The coup was brutal and bloody from the outset. Leftist leaders and sympathizers who did have the chance to flee the country were arrested, tortured and in most cases murdered. The brutality of the military was to set the scene for the years to come.

The armed forces never intended for the coup to be a transitory measure to ‘restore order’ and promptly restore civilian democracy, as the PDC had hoped for when its leader, Eduardo Frei, welcomed the coup (as did Alessandri and González Videla). Upon taking power, the junta – in which Pinochet quickly moved to assume full control – suspended constitutional guarantees, dissolved Congress, banned parties (PS, PCCh) or declared them “in recess” (PDC, PN, Radicals), declare a state of emergency and set a strict curfew. Some early supporters of the coup – most famously Frei but also Patricio Aylwin – would quickly become opponents of the regime, realizing that they had seriously overestimated the constitutional commitment of the armed forces.

The military’s proclaimed goal was national reconstruction. Their goals had a lot in common with those of Diego Portales in the 19th century (Pinochet invoked Portales’ ideals on more than one occasion) and with the theory of decadencia popularized by conservative authors such as Francisco Antonio Encina and Alberto Edwards. Like them, they idolized a strong, hierarchical state which would guide Chile’s development, restore order, remove the Marxist ‘cancer’ (nationalists loathed Marxism as a ‘foreign ideology’, many of them also disliked Christian democracy for the same reasons) and end inefficient parliamentary and party politics.

President General Augusto Pinochet and the junta (source:

During Pinochet’s regime, over 3,000 people were killed by the secret police (DINA and CNI) or the armed forces. Tens of thousands more were tortured, detained or forced into exile. The utter brutality, disregard for human rights and basic liberties by the Pinochet regime must outweigh any policy successes his regime might have had. The members of the junta, particularly Leigh, were committed to eradicating the ‘Marxist cancer’ and purged society (including the military officer corps) of anybody suspected of being a ‘Marxist’. In 1973, General Stark’s Caravan of Death – a military death squad – crisscrossed the country to execute 75 individuals, most of whom had turned themselves in and posed no threat. The regime also infamously threw opponents from helicopters into the ocean.

During the military regime, Chile and its intelligence services (DINA and CNI, led by Manuel Contreras) formed the vanguard of Operation Condor, the campaign of oppression and terror organized by South American military dictatorships (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia etc) with the CIA’s collaboration and material support – Contreras was a CIA asset and DINA/CNI contracted Michael Townley, an ex-CIA professional assassin. France is also suspected of having supported Condor. Some of Chile’s most famous operations as part of Condor included the 1974 assassination of Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires and the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier (Allende’s former ambassador to the US and senior diplomat) in Washington DC. In 1975, DINA killed 119 members of the MIR in Argentina.

Besides torture and ‘disappearances’, the regime suspended freedom of speech, press, assembly (etc.) and cracked down on any sign of opposition.

As in other South American dictatorships, left-wing guerrilla warfare against the government was very much unsuccessful. They failed to build a large base of support with the civilian population, limiting their armed struggle to isolated terrorist actions and attacks on military personnel. Many of the revolutionary guerrilla groups were badly hurt and weakened by state repression. In 1980, the exiled Communist Party decided to adopt a “popular mass rebellion” strategy and created a military wing, the Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez (FPMR), which began operating in 1983.

Pinochet inherited an economy on the verge of collapse. Unsure of how to act himself, Pinochet turned, in 1975, to a group of neoliberal technocrats educated at the Catholic University of Chile and the University of Chicago, where they had been heavily influenced by Milton Friedman’s economic theories. These “Chicago Boys” set out to apply ‘shock therapy’ to the economy, which they felt had suffered from excessive government intervention and needed to be massively deregulated. Pinochet explained that the goal was to make Chile a nation of owners/entrepreneurs, not a nation of proletarians.

Initial shock therapy included a 20% cut in public spending, laying off 30% of civil servants, raising the VAT and privatization of a number of state-owned enterprises. In privatizing many state-owned firms, Pinochet undid much of Allende’s nationalizations and returned many of them to their original owners while others were sold off (mostly to local business conglomerates or multinationals) As Friedman had warned Pinochet, the first collateral effects of shock therapy were severe: inflation still raging, a 12% fall in GDP (in 1975), a boom in unemployment (16%), a 40% reduction in the value of exports and falling real wages. However, by 1977, growth soared to 10% of GDP, inflation was falling rapidly but unemployment remained high.

The one sector of the economy which Pinochet did not touch was copper, whose nationalization in 1971 remains one of Allende’s most famous actions. The 1980 constitution declared copper resources to be inalienable property of the state, although the government opened new mineral concessions to private investors leading some to decry a ‘denationalization’ of copper. Otherwise, however, Pinochet undid a lot of Allende and past president’s economic and social reforms. In 1980-1981, the old PAYGO pensions system was changed to a capitalization system run by private pension funds. In 1981, the military junta, whose members had opposed Frei and Allende’s university reforms and associated them with Marxist student dissidence, imposed a counter-reform which atomized major universities, placed more power in private sector hands and forced all students to pay for their education. The government also reformed the healthcare (creation of private insurers, Isapres), social services and labour market in line with neoliberal precepts and in the view, for the latter, of controlling and limiting trade union activity.

The government faced difficulties in 1978. In the United States, President Jimmy Carter was very critical of Pinochet’s human rights record and American courts demanded Contreras’ extradition for the Letelier assassination. Within the military junta, General Gustavo Leigh, known as one of the hardliners in 1973, became openly critical of Pinochet – his style of leadership, the transformation of the junta into a personality cult around Pinochet, the economic policies – and was dismissed from office by the junta’s members, replaced by General Fernando Matthei. Relations with Argentina, a fellow right-wing dictatorship, deteriorated rapidly following a boundary dispute in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego; on more than occasion, Chile and Argentina came close to war and relations remained cool afterwards – Pinochet backed the British in the Falklands War. Relations with Peru and Bolivia, two historical rivals where anti-Chilean sentiment still runs deep, were also complicated by boundary conflicts left unresolved by the Chilean victory in the War of the Pacific.

To gain an ounce of legitimacy for his regime, Pinochet held a plebiscite in 1978 in which voters were asked were asked if they backed Pinochet, “in his defense of the dignity of Chile” in the face of “international aggression”. The vote was widely seen as a sham, and the yes option won 75%.

In 1980, Chileans were presented with a new constitution to replace the 1925 constitution, which the junta felt had led to the political crisis of 1973. The constitution, still in place today (with major reforms), reduced the powers of Congress, created a Constitutional Tribunal and a National Security Council. With regards to the transition to democracy, the new constitution granted Pinochet an eight-year term while the junta took legislative and constituent powers for a ‘transitory’ period lasting until 1990. At the expiration of Pinochet’s term, a plebiscite would be held in which voters would approve or reject the candidate put forward by the junta. The plebiscite held in September 1980 to approve the draft gave way to a more open and ‘democratic’ campaign in which the no campaign was granted some limited means to campaign. The no campaign, led by former President Frei, held a large meeting in Santiago in August 1980 which was the first public demonstration in opposition to the government. However, the fairness of the vote was questioned by the opposition and foreign observers, and the campaign was still heavily biased in favour of the yes. The yes option, predictably, won 67% against 30.2% for the no.

Former President Frei died in January 1982, officially from infection following a low-risk surgery; however, the courts have since claimed that Frei was poisoned with toxic substances, probably by DINA on Pinochet’s orders.

The Chilean economic miracle came to abrupt stop in 1982, when the country was hit particularly hard by the Latin American debt crisis which had begun in Mexico. The Chilean crisis was caused by high interest rates, a fall in copper prices, its exposure to global economic cycles and an overvalued currency (pegged to the dollar). Pinochet’s decision to devalue the currency proved disastrous, as Chileans indebted themselves in dollars and the country’s large debt increased further. Banks fell bankrupt, and the government temporarily abandoned the Chicago Boys to nationalize some banks. The country was rocked by the first major strikes and protests against the government’s policies, which became increasingly violent as the government refused to hear the opposition. Overall, in 1982, the GDP plunged 14% and nearly one third of the population was unemployed.

After temporarily abandoning neoliberal policies, Pinochet signaled a return to such policies in 1985 with the nomination of Hernán Büchi as finance minister. Public spending was reduced again, the peso was devalued to favour exports, a new round of privatizations (steel, electricity, communications, sugar, LAN Chile airline, banks nationalized in 1982), Central Bank control of interest rates, cutting government subsidies and reducing tariffs. Chile’s economy was further deregulated and open to international market competition. The results were favourable: the second Chilean economic miracle, with 5-10% yearly growth rates throughout the rest of the regime’s existence; many feel that Chile’s present-day economic stability and performance is at least partly due to Pinochet’s economic reforms. The success of Pinochet’s economic policies after the 1982 crisis became one of the regime’s strongest arguments in the 1988 plebiscite. However, the economic miracle came at the cost of equality: during the Pinochet regime, the lower middle-classes and working-classes saw their real wages fall, poorer social services as a result of systematic privatization and income inequality increased. To this day, Chile is one of the world’s most unequal countries, with a Gini index of 52.1 (2009) placing it 17th in the world and behind only Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Paraguay and Bolivia in Latin America. Income inequality was even more drastic in 1990; although it remains high today, poverty remains low by regional standards and Chile has the HDI in South America.

The 1980s were otherwise marked by increased domestic and foreign opposition to the dictatorship. As Chile became one of the last standing dictatorships in South America after the fall of similar regimes in Brazil, Argentina and even Paraguay, Pinochet became even more isolated and the focus of international pressure and condemnation. Even President Ronald Reagan, whose election had marked a less hostile attitude towards Pinochet, began pressuring Pinochet to liberalize in 1985. Nevertheless, Pinochet was still viewed favourably by conservative circles in Washington, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, apartheid South Africa, and maintained amicable relations with China. The Soviet Union had broken diplomatic ties after 1973, but Moscow never cared much for Chile – even under Allende.

In 1983, opposition parties led by the PDC united to form a Democratic Alliance (AD) which included, besides the PDC, the Radicals, the Chilean Social Democracy Party (founded in 1971 as a moderate social democratic splinter of the Radicals which left the UP in 1972) and moderate factions of the very divided Socialist Party. The Communists, who still defended the armed struggle against the regime, organized the Movimiento Democrático Popular (MDP) with Clodomiro Almeyda’s radical faction of the PS and the MIR. The opposition remained divided amongst itself and the moderate parties like the PDC were unsure of what role the Socialists and Communists should play in a coalition. The inclusion of those parties would play into Pinochet’s hands, as he exploited middle-class fears of a return to 1973. In 1984, Pinochet rebuked his interior minister’s willingness to negotiate with the opposition.

In 1983, the opposition began organizing Jornadas de Protesta Nacional – civilian demonstrations against the government. Faced with a brutal state, many of these demonstrations often ended in bloodshed or reprisals. In July 1986, following what would be the last of these demonstrations, two young protesters were beaten and burnt alive with gasoline by soldiers who later took them to a barren shantytown to leave them to die. One later died of his burns, while the other was badly wounded and burned.

Domestically, the armed struggle against the regime globally failed. In 1986, the regime intercepted 80 tons of arms shipments to the FPMR. In September 1986, the FPMR’s assassination attempt on Pinochet failed, although five people were killed in the attack. The CNI cracked down on the organization, killing 15 of its members in June 1987 during the so-called ‘Operation Albania’. The FPMR’s failure led the Communists to reevaluate their strategy of armed struggle, which had clearly failed. The PCCh broke its ties with the FPMR (which continued to operate as a radical terrorist group even after 1990) in 1987.

In accordance with the 1980 constitution, the government called for a plebiscite for October 5, 1988. The candidate ‘put forward’ by the ruling junta was, unsurprisingly, Augusto Pinochet himself who therefore ran for another eight-year term in office (until March 1997). If the yes won, Pinochet would take office for a second term effective March 1989, and organize congressional elections to substitute the ruling military junta. If the no won, Pinochet’s term would be extended to March 1990, at which point he would hand over power to a democratically elected President and Congress. Previously, in 1987, the junta had allowed for the creation of political parties (although the PCCh was still banned).

The (yes) campaign was backed by the government and right-wing parties, including, among others, the present-day Independent Democratic Union (Unión Demócrata Independiente, UDI) and National Renewal (Renovación Nacional, RN). In February 1988, the opposition parties had formed the Coalition of Parties for the No, better known in Spanish as the Concertación de Partidos por el No or Concertación. The Concertación included the PDC, the four factions of the PS, Ricardo Lagos’ moderate social democratic Party for Democracy (PPD), the Radicals, the Social Democracy Party, the two factions of MAPU, the Izquierda Cristiana (IC), the Humanist Party (PH) and other centrist and centre-left parties.

One month before the vote, political propaganda was effectively legalized when both campaigns were granted equal airtime for campaign ads (albeit not at the same showtimes…). The no campaign soon stood out for its superior campaign ads, which were popularized in the excellent 2012 Chilean film No. The no campaign struck an optimistic note, focusing on the future (rather than reminders of Allende) and focusing on issues such as human rights, civil liberties and democracy. It also drew attention to the Pinochet personality cult, and warned against ’25 years of Pinochet’ (if he ruled until 1997). The no campaign’s jingle began ‘Chile, la alegría ya viene‘ (Chile, happiness is coming) and the Concertación’s logo was a rainbow symbolizing political plurality.

On the other hand, the  campaign was largely negative and the government-led campaign was a trainwreck. It began with scare campaigns which reminded voters of the political and socioeconomic crisis which Chile had been in back in 1973 when Pinochet took over, equating Pinochet’s defeat with a return to the UP. If it was positive, it was to highlight the regime’s strong suit – the economy and the Chilean economic miracle; nonetheless a strong tactic given that many wavering voters were still considering Pinochet because they saw him as a safe bet and were pleased with the strong economy. However, the no’s optimistic and rights-focused campaign was able to attract many of those undecided middle-class voters who had bad memories of the Allende years but were unhappy with Pinochet’s human rights record.

The yes campaign also played a lot on Pinochet, which might have been counterproductive in that it reinforced the Concertación’s claims of a personality cult. The government’s image experts tried to give Pinochet a more humane and less martial image, remaking him as a paternalist and likable grandfather rather than the stern coupist from the 70s. Their ad campaigns also tended to have a micro focus, highlighting several economic gains or infrastructure projects in specific regions. Notice in the ‘s ad below the presence of all these themes – notably the somber beginning telling us of food shortages in 1973 and the UP taking away “the most basic human right – the right to bread” by its policies. On a black background, the message is very clear: seguimos adelante o volvemos a la UP (moving forward or return to the UP).

Given its trainwreck of a campaign, the yes campaign was forced to go on the offensive against the no campaign, resorting to mocking its jingle and ads. However, the yes campaign still had numerous advantages over the no: first and foremost, control of an authoritarian state apparatus which still tended to see any dissent as dangerous. Many Chileans still lived in fear of the regime and hesitated to express opposition to it; many no supporters also had deep suspicions that the vote would be manipulated.

Early results in the evening communicated by the regime indicated a strong lead for the yes, leading the opposition to fear that the vote was rigged. It soon became clear to the government, however, that they had been defeated. General Fernando Matthei claimed in his memoirs in 2003 that Pinochet had wanted to ignore the results of the plebiscite; Matthei later claimed that this had not happened. The no vote triumphed with 56% of the vote.

Transition and consolidation of democracy (1988-2000)

Chile became a democracy after a negotiated transition to democracy in which the outgoing military junta and government ensured that they would retain significant influence and power over Chilean political life, particularly as it pertained to the role of the military and impunity for human rights violations committed under Pinochet.

The first step was to reform the 1980 constitution to make it functional in a liberal democratic society. Pinochet and the UDI wanted minor reforms, while the RN and Concertación favoured deeper reforms. Finally, the government and opposition reached an agreement on a constitutional reform in July 1989. The President’s power was reduced (curtailing the use of states of emergencies, removing his ability to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, term reduced to six years), the National Security Council was to be balanced between military and civilian members, Marxist parties were legalized, the process for constitutional reforms was slightly simplified, and fundamental rights were protected. Yet, a number of “authoritarian enclaves” subsisted: Pinochet imposed the binomial electoral system, the Senate would have ‘nominated Senators’ (civilian and military) and ‘Senators-for-life’ (ex-Presidents who served their full term) and the President could not unilaterally dismiss the commanders in chief of the armed forces.

It was also agreed upon that Pinochet would remain Commander-in-Chief of the army until 1998, Pinochet stacked the Supreme Court with 9 new judges, the mayors nominated by the regime would remain in office until 1992, public servants hired by the regime could not lose their jobs and the Concertación agreed not to touch a 1978 amnesty law which granted amnesty for crimes committed between 1973 and 1978 except for the Letelier case. 91.3% of voters approved the reforms in a referendum in July 1989.

Presidential and congressional elections were held in December 1989. The nomination of the Concertación candidate was a complicated and convoluted process. In the PDC, Patricio Aylwin won an internal primary marred by serious allegations of fraud by Aylwin’s camp (Carmengate), defeating former party president Gabriel Valdés and Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of the former President. Aylwin, to the party’s right, had been an implacable foe of Allende’s government and backed the 1973 coup, before becoming an opponent of Pinochet’s regime. Valdés, however, was on the left of the PDC and had supported an alliance with the left against Pinochet. Aylwin’s candidacy, by virtue of his leadership role in the 1988 plebiscite and the PDC’s strength, was acclaimed by the other parties.

The pro-Pinochet right, formed by the RN and UDI, eventually nominated Hernán Büchi, the Minister of Finance and architect of the second wave of neoliberal policies after 1985. Towards the centre-right, however, Francisco Javier Errázuriz, an independent businessman backed by small centre-right parties but also the far-right Avanzada Nacional, also ran.

Aylwin, by far the strongest candidate, won easily with 55.2% against 29.4% for Büchi and 15.4% for Francisco Javier Errázuriz. The Concertación won a majority in both houses, but the addition of the nine nominated senators gave the right a majority in the Senate. The binomial system started working its wonders for the right, which won 40% of the seats in the lower house despite winning only 34.2% of the vote. In contrast, the Unidad para la Democracia alliance formed by the leftist faction of the Radicals and a Communist-led party, won 5.3% but only two seats.

Aylwin’s presidency and the democratic transition was greatly helped by Chile’s economic health, which made for a less chaotic and more orderly transition than in Brazil or Argentina, whose first post-dictatorship presidents were hit very hard by huge economic crises. As part of the negotiated transition, the Concertación agreed to leave intact Pinochet’s neoliberal economic reforms (things such as the private pension funds, the privatizations etc). Aylwin’s government was therefore committed to maintaining the economic ‘success story’, but sought to increase living standards for poorer Chileans and redistribute wealth more fairly. Under Aylwin’s term, spending on healthcare and education was increased, as were social benefits. The results were successful: poverty fell by 10% between 1990 and 1993, growth remained high, inflation dropped further to 13%, unemployment fell to only 5% and workers saw their real wages increase considerably.

However, Aylwin’s presidency was complicated by tense military-civilian relations and an unrepentant Pinochet, who held considerable power as commander in chief of the army and whose men still held important jobs in the judiciary and bureaucracy. Aylwin created the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation in 1990 and published its report on human rights violations during Pinochet’s regime in 1991 (Informe Rettig), which claimed that 2,279 people had died or disappeared as a result of human rights violations or political violence under the military regime. Aylwin’s desire to bring crimes to justice, however, were severely complicated by the military’s obstinate refusal and the various amnesty laws it had passed. The 1978 amnesty law effectively blocked prosecution of senior military officials, and the Supreme Court – which was still pro-military – did not apply the president’s doctrine of investigating crimes before granting amnesty. However, Manuel Contreras, former head of DINA, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1993 for his role in the Letelier assassination (not covered by amnesty).

In 1991, right-wing senator Jaime Guzmán, a prominent figure under the Pinochet regime (he designed the binomial electoral system) was assassinated by the FPMR.

Pinochet had poor relations with Patricio Rojas, the PDC Minister of Defense, although he had better ties with Aylwin and the government spokesperson. Two incidents posed a major threat to the transition in 1990 and 1993, both precipitated by Pinochet. In 1990, Pinochet mobilized the army for ‘exercises’ to prevent an investigation into the Pinocheques scandal (the payment of $3 million in cheques by the army to Pinochet’s son to buy a bankrupt company owned  [unofficially] by Pinochet’s son). In 1993, after a media report that the case would be reopened, Pinochet organized a meeting with high-ranking officers at army HQs (near La Moneda), accompanied by armed soldiers in combat fatigues. The pressure worked: Aylwin’s successor ordered the case closed for ‘reasons of state’.

Aylwin’s term lasted only four years by general agreement at the time of transition. Before the 1993 election, the Concertación (which took its current form with the PDC, PS, PPD, Radicals and Social Democrats) held a presidential primary in May 1993. Senator Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (PDC), the son of the former president, won handily with 63.3% over Ricardo Lagos (PPD), backed by the left-wing parties of the coalition. Lagos, minister of education until 1992, had gained notoriety for a strong performance in a TV debate in the 1988 plebiscite in which he had directly accused Pinochet of dishonesty by initially promising not to stand again in 1988. The right, grouped as the Union for the Progress of Chile, nominated Senator Arturo Alessandri Besa, the grandson of Arturo Alessandri. Alessandri was something of a last resort, given that a phone tapping scandal had kept Senator Sebastián Piñera from running.

Frei was elected by a large margin, winning 58% against only 24.4% for Alessandri. José Piñera, the brother of Sebastián Piñera and architect of the pension privatization and labour reform under Pinochet, won 6.2%. The Concertación maintained its absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, winning 70 seats to the Unión’s 50 seats. Within the governing coalition, the PDC retained its leadership with 37 deputies against 15 apiece for the reunited PS and the PPD.

On the far-left, a coalition led by the Communists won 6.4% but no seats. Penalized by the binomial system, the Communists, so strong before 1973, were furthermore divided amongst themselves.

Frei’s presidency was beset by economic problems and the contentious Pinochet case. His presidency started smoothly enough, with strong economic growth until 1997 and a stronger presence on the regional and international scenes (failed negotiations to join NAFTA, Mercosur associate membership, APEC membership). Frei, elected on the promise of ‘growth with equity’, continued Aylwin and the former regime’s orthodox financial policies while working to reduce poverty. Further privatizations were undertaken and finalized; privatization having gone “virtually to the maximum”, investors turned to Argentina.

In the 1997 congressional elections, the Concertación and the right-wing Union for Chile saw little changes in their relative strength. The former held its majority in the lower house, the latter held its strong minority. The PDC suffered some loses, as did the PS, while the PPD and the new Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD, merger of the Radicals and Social Democrats) made gains. Four candidates, two independents and two centrists, won seats outside the two major blocs. But the Communists, whose coalition won 7.5%, failed to win any seats.

However, by 1998 and 1999, Chile was hurt by the Asian economic crisis (which impacted all of Latin America, some countries harder than others) but also by several environmental crises, including droughts in 1996 and 1998-1999 which hurt the agricultural sector but also created energy crises because of Chile’s dependence on hydroelectricity and floods in 1997. Growth fell to 3.2% in 1998 and Chile was in recession in 1999 (-0.8%) after an average growth rate of 7%; unemployment rose to 12%. The erratic policies of the finance minister and the Central Bank were criticized and aggravated the recession.

Results of the 2000 presidential runoff by comuna (source:

Chile was criticized for its relative inaction on pending human rights cases and its failure to repeal amnesty for murders. In March 1998, Pinochet stepped down as commander in chief of the army and took his seat as senator for life that same day. In October 1998, while Pinochet was in London to receive medical treatment, he was arrested and placed under house arrest on an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. Spain had initiated judicial proceedings against the military juntas in Chile and Argentina, initially for human rights abuses against Spanish nationals but later expanded to include non-nationals. Garzón’s Spanish case was a watershed moment in international law, being largely founded on the new concept of universal jurisdiction.

A sixteen-month long legal battle was fought in the House of Lords on the matter of Pinochet’s extradition to stand trial in Spain. The House of Lords ruled that Pinochet did not have immunity for crimes such as torture, though it ruled that Pinochet could only be prosecuted for crimes committed after 1988 (when the UK implemented anti-torture legislation). The case divided Chilean society and presented the Concertación government with a serious problem. President Frei and his foreign ministers (both from the PS) were against his extradition, arguing that Spain lacked jurisdiction (sovereignty) and that Pinochet should only stand trial in Chile. However, the Communists, domestic human rights NGOs and several Socialists (including Allende’s daughter Isabel Allende, a PS deputy; and human rights lawyer Juan Bustos) backed the extradition. The Chilean armed forces and right were strongly opposed to Pinochet’s extradition and trial. Abroad, the case against Pinochet was supported by human rights NGOs, Amnesty International, the UN and the Belgian, French and Swiss governments. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President George H.W. Bush called on Britain to release Pinochet.

In January 2000, British Home Secretary Jack Straw controversially ruled against his extradition and Pinochet returned to Santiago in March 2000, where he was warmly greeted by the new commander in chief of the army but also faced thousands of protesters. That same month, Congress approved a constitutional amendment granting ‘ex-Presidents’ immunity. In May 2000, Pinochet’s parliamentary immunity was lifted, clearing the way for him to stand trial in the Caravan of Death case.

In the midst of this firestorm, the 1999-2000 presidential election was the most competitive election in the post-Pinochet era. For the Concertación, Ricardo Lagos, who had served as Frei’s public works minister until 1998, handily won the open primaries against the PDC President of the Senate Andrés Zaldívar, a longtime politician (minister under Frei) and considered close to Aylwin. The right, grouped as the Union for Chile, nominated Joaquín Lavín, a former Chicago Boy and rather popular UDI mayor of the affluent suburban municipality of Las Condes in the Greater Santiago. The Communists nominated the PCCh’s secretary-general and senior politician Gladys Marín. Lagos ran a poor campaign, allowing Lavín to capitalize on a growing desire for change (with the economic crisis) and growing support for the right among centrist voters (perhaps because Lagos was to the left of both his predecessors). In the first round, Lagos won 48% against 47.5% for Lavín, while the other candidates all did poorly – the Communist candidate won only 3.2%; many fearing Lavín’s victory because of his right-wing and pro-Pinochet past.

Before the second round, Lagos reshuffled his campaign team to better integrate the PDC. He narrowly won with 51.3% against 48.7% for Lavín.

Chile in the twenty-first century (2000-2010)

Ricardo Lagos’ presidency began with a series of difficulties which badly hurt the Concertación and the executive branch, but Lagos’ popularity had increased to high levels by the time that he left office in 2006.

On the economic front, recovery from the economic crisis which hit the country was slow and difficult and unemployment levels remained high. Lagos’ government maintained orthodox fiscal policies which were praised by the US government and his government finalized a series of landmark free trade agreements with the US, the EU, South Korea and China. These free trade agreements were generally well perceived, especially by employers, and led to a sharp increase in the volume of exports. However, unemployment remained high at nearly 10% throughout Lagos’ presidency. Lagos was criticized for his proximity to powerful economic actors.

Like his predecessors, Lagos’ government introduced a number of new social programs or reforms to reduce poverty or tackle joblessness. Some of these policies included unemployment benefits (paid for by employees, employers and the state); healthcare regulations establishing guarantees of access, quality, timeliness and financial protection; a system of social protection – including subsidized access to utilities and social services – for families in extreme poverty; and twelve years of compulsory schooling.

In a traditionally conservative country, the legalization of divorce in 2004 was a major move forward. It had been preceded, under Frei’s administration, by the legalization of homosexuality and the legal recognition of gender equality.

In the first years of his government, until 2003, the administration went from crisis to crisis and scandal to scandal. In late 2002, a businessman claimed that he had to pay the Undersecretary of Transportation some 15 million pesos in bribes in return for approval of a project in the city of Rancagua. In January 2003, 8 individuals including the Undersecretary of Transportation and two PDC deputies were found guilty. However, the largest corruption case to fall on the government was the MOP-GATE, involving bonuses paid to employees of the Ministry of Public Works, embezzlement of public funds and irregularities in the tenders for public works projects. The PS Minister of Transportation and Public Works was forced to step down in January 2002 for his involvement in MOP-GATE and other bribery scandals. He later claimed that ministers, undersecretaries and men in the president’s inner circle received similar bonuses; the President recognized the practice but said it had been practiced by past administrations to supplement the regular salaries of senior bureaucrats.

The number of corruption cases of all kinds and public interest in such cases increased during Lagos’ presidency. In 2006, three members of the Concertación claimed that there was an “ideology of corruption” and that the parties in the ruling coalition used taxpayers’ money to finance political campaigns, often by using public funds destined for other purposes (unemployment, research etc) or ties to private businesses. Nevertheless, despite publicized cases of political corruption and conflict of interest, Chile is one of the least corrupt countries in Latin America alongside Uruguay. The Corruption Perceptions Index (2012) placed Chile in 20th position, around the same level as the United States, the UK, France and Japan.

The Concertación suffered loses in the 2001 legislative elections, barely retaining its majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The right-wing Alliance for Chile gained 10 seats, winning a total of 57 seats to the ruling coalition’s 62 seats. Furthermore, the PDC was no longer the largest single party – that honour now went to the conservative UDI.

Lagos’ presidency coincided with the ‘Red Tide’ in South America, with the election of left-wing leaders such as Néstor Kirchner (Argentina), Lula (Brazil) and Hugo Chávez (Venezuela). Although the Concertación coalition leans towards the centre-left, it has often opposed more populist and ‘radical’ left-wing leaders such as Chávez. Relations between Venezuela and Chile were complicated in 2002 when Santiago recognized the coupist government which briefly overthrew Chávez and later in 2004 when Chávez backed Bolivia’s demands for access to the sea. Instead, the Concertación’s policies leaned heavily towards integration into free trade agreements and the globalized economy. Generally on good terms with Washington, relations were somewhat strained by Santiago’s opposition to the Iraq War in 2003.

On human rights issues, 2003-2004 saw a national commission on torture was formed and released a report (Valech report) which found about 30,000 legitimate accusations of torture by witnesses. Contreras was sentenced in several cases; he is currently serving some 25 sentences totaling nearly 300 years in prison.

In the Pinochet saga, questions over his health and ability to stand trial delayed the cases against him in the Caravan of Death and over 100 other complaints. Pinochet resigned from the Senate in 2002 and gradually withdrew from public life. However, in May 2004, the Supreme Court ruled him fit to stand trial, but he suffered a stroke a few months later.

Pinochet’s image of personal probity took a huge hit in 2004 when the US Senate that Pinochet was hiding millions in offshore bank accounts which had been opened in 1990 and likely served to launder money that he had made on weapons traffic or illegal sales of weapons to Croatia, while he was commander in chief of the army. The state opened a criminal investigation against him.

In August 2005, with Lagos’ term drawing to an end, a ‘package’ of constitutional reforms were approved. These reforms included shortening the presidential term from 6 to 4 years, eliminating nominated and lifelong senators, granting the President the power to dismiss military commanders and reducing the powers of the National Security Council.

As Lagos’ popularity increased, so did the Concertación’s hopes of holding the presidency in 2006. In 2004, the Concertación won the local elections by a 10 point margin over the Alliance. Ahead of the presidential election, the Concertación had two strong candidates: the PDC’s foreign minister Soledad Alvear and the PS defense minister Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet, the daughter of an air force general killed by the military regime and a victim of torture herself, had made a good impression as health and later defense minister under President Lagos. Particularly, her tenure as defense minister – the first woman to hold that portfolio and the first to have been tortured by the armed forces – significantly increased her notoriety and popularity. As defense minister, she oversaw an improvement in military-civilian relations and the first signs of repentance by the armed forces. In 2004, the commander in chief of the army recognized and apologized for the army’s role in human rights violations. Alvear dropped out of the primaries in May 2005 and Bachelet was acclaimed as the Concertación’s candidate.

Joaquín Lavín (UDI), the right’s candidate in 1999-2000 and the main presidential contender for the Alliance, found himself challenged by Sebastián Piñera, a liberal businessman from the RN, the more moderate of the Alliance’s two parties. In the first round, held in December 2005, Bachelet won 46% of the vote. Piñera narrowly defeated his rival Lavín, taking 25.4% against 23.2% for the UDI’s candidate. The only other candidate, Tomás Hirsch (Humanist), backed by the Juntos Podemos Más coalition including the PCCh, won 5.4%. In congressional elections, the Concertación made gains.

Results of the 2005-2006 presidential election by comuna (source: Saint Brendan’s Island)

Following a tense runoff campaign, Bachelet won the presidency in January 2006 with 53.5% of the vote. Bachelet became the first woman to be elected president of Chile, and the first member of the PS to win the presidency since Allende in 1970.

Bachelet’s presidency, however, had very little to do with Salvador Allende’s turbulent presidency. She governed very much as consensual and pragmatic moderate, which made her wildly popular by the time she left office in 2010.

At the outset, the new president soon saw a sharp dip in her popularity and she handled a number of contentious issues and crises. Her first challenge came with large student protests only a few months after her inauguration. I will come back to the issue of student protests and education later, but the students’ demands expressed opposition to the Chilean education system, which was structured by the late military junta and in which the government plays a much weaker role than in other OECD countries. Bachelet drew criticism for her slow response to the crisis, although she announced negotiations in June 2006, which gradually led to the movement’s decay over the winter. Her government agreed to several concessions to student demands and passed a new law on education, but as the 2008 and 2011-2013 protests have shown, education remains very much of an unsolved issue in Chile.

In February 2007, her approval ratings in Santiago took a big hit following the roll-out of the Transantiago integrated public transit, an ambitious and large-scale initiative to better integrate and manage chaotic public transit in the capital which was launched by the previous administration. However, a number of mistakes in design and implementation and the attitude of certain companies involved in the project led to a disastrous roll-out, which was widely disapproved by public transit users who saw their commute times increase and significant chaos in the Greater Santiago. Her approval ratings fell into the red in the winter of 2007 for the first time since taking office. In March 2007, her Minister of Transportation was forced to resign after the right had announced its intentions to remove him from office (the Chilean Congress may ‘constitutionally accuse’ public officials and the Senate votes to impeach them if the Chamber of Deputies ruled the accusation valid). Bachelet announced a number of contingency measures and the system improved significantly in the next months. So did her approval rating.

Economically, Chile’s economy continued to perform very strongly with growth rates of about 5% in 2006 and 2007, buoyed by the record high prices of copper. Her government decided to save the copper profits, instead of spending them – as some in the ruling coalition wanted – in social services. When the economic crisis hit the country in 2009, the government’s past orthodox policies and copper profit savings allowed it to implement a Keynesian fiscal stimulus policy which was hailed by the OECD. Chile was in recession in 2009 and unemployment increased to over 10%, but it would prove only a slight hiccup. During the presidential transition period in February 2010, Chile was badly hurt by an 8.8 earthquake and tsunami which killed over 500 people. Bachelet has been criticized for negligence during the earthquake/tsunami. Economically, again, Chile’s orthodox economic policies during ‘boom’ years provided the state with funds during the reconstruction process.

However, the government’s economic policies have faced criticisms from trade unions. In August 2007, the CUT (Chile’s main trade union conglomerate) called for a strike, in which over 600 people were arrested and about 30 policemen injured.

In December 2006, Augusto Pinochet at the age of 91. Despite facing over 400 criminal charges ranging from human rights abuses, murder, kidnapping to tax evasion, he never faced trial for any of his crimes. Despite being a former President, Bachelet refused to organize a state funeral and only the Minister of Defense attended his funeral.

The Concertación was implicated in a number of corruption scandals in 2006 and 2007. The government’s sports organization funds were siphoned off to pay for the campaigns of Concertación politicians. PPD Senator Guido Girardi was found to have used fake bills from a nonexistent companies to justify campaign expenses; this fake company was later revealed to have been used by right-wing politicians as well, including Piñera.

When she left office in 2010, Bachelet’s approval ratings stood at about 84%.

However, very little of that popularity rubbed off on the Concertación. The old ruling coalition’s image had been badly hurt by corruption scandal and the widespread perception that it had turned into a stale and complacent old coalition with very little new ideas of its own. There was a major desire for change, and, to a certain extent a rejection of both traditional coalitions on the left and right. In 2008, the right-wing Alliance won the municipal elections, the first defeat for the Concertación in a nationwide election since the restoration of democracy.

The right-wing coalition transformed itself into the Coalition for Change (Coalición por el Cambio) and Sebastián Piñera, the RN’s 2005 candidate and runner up to Bachelet in 2006, was acclaimed without opposition as the Coalition’s candidate. Piñera is a billionaire ($2.5 billion in 2013), making most of his fortune through profits made in the 1980s with the introduction of credit cards in the country and investments in a wide range of companies, including LAN Airlines, where he was a minority shareholder. On the Chilean right, Piñera is very much of a moderate and has very little political ties to the old military regime. He comes from a Christian Democratic family, and he claims that he voted no in 1988. However, he served as Hernán Büchi’s campaign manager in the 1989 election and participated in a 1998 demonstration against Pinochet’s detention in London. Serving as a senator for the RN between 1999 and 1998, he was a major contender for the presidency in 1993 but his involvement in a tapped phone conversation about a fellow right-wing presidential hopeful and another scandal forced him to withdraw.

The Concertación’s candidate was former President Eduardo Frei, by now a senator. Although he handily defeated his single rival in the coalition’s internal primaries, his candidacy was challenged by several dissident Socialists led by deputy Marco Enríquez-Ominami (MEO), a young (36) Franco-Chilean filmmaker and the son of the MIR’s co-founder, killed by the regime in 1974. MEO had sought to run in the primaries, but the PS did not endorse him and was therefore unable to put forward his candidacy. Instead, he ran as an independent in the presidential election, backed by a coalition of independents and small left-leaning parties including the Humanists, who abandoned the Communists (whose candidate was former PS leader Jorge Arrate).

Piñera’s campaign dealt with the challenge of winning the presidency despite the incumbent president’s record high approval ratings. Responding to this challenge, Piñera ran an ideologically moderate campaign which focused on the notion of change and differed little, ideologically, from the Concertación. He also dropped the more nationalist symbolic references of the right, notably by changing the traditional campaign colours from the white/blue/red of the national flag with the colours of the rainbow (the Concertación’s famous symbol since 1988). Frei’s campaign, lagging behind the right and hurt by MEO, tried to capitalize on the popularity of the incumbent, with relatively little success. Frei carried some baggage from his association with the 1999-2000 economic crisis and he is quite uncharismatic. MEO’s campaign successfully capitalized on a strong desire for change, especially with younger voters. Making heavy use of social media, MEO campaigned heavily on change and took more leftist stances than the Concertación on issues such as education or moral issues (abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage).

In the first round in December 2009, Piñera won 44.1% against 29.6% for Frei and 20.1% for MEO. Arrate won 6.2% of the vote. In the congressional elections, the Coalition took a bare plurality in the Chamber of Deputies, winning 58 seats to the ruling coalition’s 57 seats with 3 seats going to regionalist independents and two seats going to independents. The coalition backing MEO won only 4.6% of the vote and won no seats. The Communists, for the first time, ran candidates within the Concertación and won three seats, returning to Congress for the first time since 1973.

The second round, in January 2010, was closely fought. Frei successfully drew voters from MEO or the Communists, likely those who were uneasy with the prospect of the right regaining power for the first time since the transition. It was, however, not quite enough. Sebastián Piñera, the runaway favourite for months, won with 51.6% of the vote. He became the first right-wing president since the transition, and the first right-wing candidate to win the presidency democratically since Jorge Alessandri in 1958.

Piñera’s government

Sebastián Piñera leaves office early next year with low approval ratings, with well over half of respondents disapproving of his performance – and this is despite an improvement in his numbers as he became a lame-duck president and was out of the spotlight with the presidential campaign. In 2011, his disapproval ratings hit 70%, the lowest support for any president since the transition. Besides a number of unpopular policy decisions, major protests and scandals, Piñera is not respected by many and often dismissed as something of a lightweight. The Economist controversially called him an inept politician, and a series of slip of the tongues (not remembering names, saying that Robinson Crusoe actually existed, mispronunciations, grammatical mistakes) or faux pas (sitting behind President Obama’s desk, signing the German President’s guestbook with Deutschland, Deutschland über alles) have made him the object of ridicule in Chile – his piñericosas have become as popular as Bushisms were in the US.

Results of the 2009-2010 presidential election by comuna (source: Saint Brendan’s Island)

Piñera’s unpopularity has little to do with the economic results in the past four years: the Chilean economy, statistically, is thriving. Growth has been stable at roughly 5% since he took office, unemployment is down to 6% – the lowest in decades, inflation is contained and the public accounts are in good order. The president’s approval ratings on jobs and the economy are good: in October 2013, 58% and 52% respectively approved his his management of jobs and the economy.Economic strength is no longer good enough for Chileans, who by large are increasingly aware of and concerned with income inequality. Many are increasingly critical of the neoliberal economic model which, on the whole, has given the country economic and political stability since 1989.

Piñera’s cabinet included a large number of technocrats and ostensibly independent (although right-leaning) figures – The Economist said that nearly half of his ministers resigned corporate directorships to take their jobs. Among others, Piñera’s finance minister, Felipe Larraín had previously worked for the Angelini group, a large business conglomerate. The large place given to technocrats in his cabinet unnerved some politicians within the right-wing Coalition, who would have preferred a more political cabinet. The ties between many ministers and the private sector led to numerous accussations of conflict of interests and forced some ministers to resign from their posts. In July 2011, a new energy minister remained only three days in office after the media found that the national energy company owed money to his private construction firm. Before taking office, Piñera sold most (but not all) of his shares, notably in LAN Airlines and the cable TV station Chilevisión. He tried to keep his stake in Colo Colo, Chile’s most successful football club, but was forced to sell his stake when he was accused of meddling in the football association. The business-friendly makeup of his cabinet was welcomed by the private sector and the right, but critics felt that he was insufficiently attentive to conflicts of interest. The elitist allure of it all may also have generated feelings that Piñera did not understand or sympathize with poorer Chileans.

Piñera took office in the midst of a tragedy (the earthquake a few days before), and indeed his inauguration in March 2010 was disturbed by 6.9 aftershock. During his presidency, he has had to deal with a number of similar tragedies or crises including a fire at a Santiago prison in 2010 which killed 81 inmates, wildifires in Araucanía and a volcanic eruption in 2011. What gave Piñera incredible notoriety (and a positive image) abroad was the August-October 2010 mine disaster in Copiapó in the Atacama desert. Following a cave-in at a small privately-owned copper-gold mine, 33 miners were trapped about 700m underground. A bit over 10 days after the accident, the 33 miners were discovered to be alive. The government took charge of the rescue effort following an outpouring of local and international sympathy and interest. In October 2010, all 33 miners were rescued by a capsule descended through a hole drilled in the ground. Piñera took a leading role in managing the rescue efforts, which were intensely scrutinized and followed by media around the world. His approval rating peaked at 63% in October 2010 following the mine rescue. However, as time has passed, there have been concerns that relatively little has changed in mine safety in the country and some criticized Piñera for turning the event into something of a media circus. His repeat use of the letter sent by the 33 miners in August to inform rescuers that they were alive was mocked and became a famous piñericosa.

Piñera’s second and third years in government (2011-2012) were largely defined by large protests, which many saw as the largest protests since the return of democracy and as a sign of growing discontent with the neoliberal economic model which had been previously widely accepted by most Chileans.

In January 2011, the national energy company’s decision to cut natural gas subsidies (increasing prices by 16.8%) for customers in the Magallanes region (the southernmost region) led to major protests. Protesters blocked roads, stranding cars who were trying to cross from the Argentine provinces of Tierra del Fuego to Santa Cruz via Chile as well as tourists in a national park. Within days, the Minister of Energy (along with the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Labour) were replaced in a cabinet shuffle and the government agreed to a compromise, which increased natural gas prices by only 3%. In January 2011, the President’s approval rating fell 6 points to 41% and his disapproval rating was higher than his approval rating for the first time.

The government’s approval of the HidroAysén hydroelectricity project (a plan to build five dams in the Aysén Region) sparked regional protests against the project in April-May 2011, and polls showed that nearly three-quarters of respondents opposed the project. Protesters opposed the plan because they feared its negative social and environmental impact, or because they felt it was unnecessary. The harsh methods employed by the police against demonstrators were denounced by Amnesty International and the Spanish press. Although judicial challenges all the way to the Supreme Court failed in 2012, the project was put on hold in May 2012. Piñera’s approval ratings took a sharp dip in May 2011 (-5) and disapproval of his environmental policies jumped 7 points to 63%.

Education in Chile – a primer

Above all, however, Piñera’s presidency will have been defined by the student protests which began in May 2011 and which, while petered out somewhat, have continued into 2012 and 2013.

Education is a highly politicized topic in most countries, but it is probably even more so in Chile because of the high politicization of students and the circumstances in which Chile’s contemporary education system was designed in the 1980s. In the 1960s and 1970s, responding to a new wave of student activism, the administrations of presidents Frei and Allende reformed the management of Chilean universities, granting managerial and financial autonomy to universities and more powers to students and professors. At the time of the 1973 coup, universities were a high place of political activism, particularly on the left but also on the right. The PCCh and PS’ youth organizations (JJCC and JS) were strong, but revolutionary movements such as the MIR and Christian left offshoots of the PDC (MAPU and Izquierda Cristiana) were quite influential as well. On the right, the gremialista movement led by the Catholic University’s Jaime Guzmán opposed the reforms and were hostile at the transformation of universities from elitist academic institutions to politicized hotbeds of opposition. Gremialismo‘s criticism of Marxism, Christian reformism (including Christian democracy) and liberal democracy appealed to a wider conservative public of small business owners, traditionalist Catholics, employers and the upper middle-class. After the coup, gremialismo rose to influence in the new government and its views were close to those of the Chicago Boys technocrats (ostensibly apolitical, limited government, the state as an abstract and aloof force which gave free rein to the Church and the free market).

Pinochet’s regime was naturally hostile to universities and students, which were seen as dangerous hotbeds of ‘revolutionary’ dissent and opposition which needed to be whipped back into order. The junta immediately purged universities from students, academics and professors which were judged to be dangerous elements. The Valech Commission found that between 1978 and 1990, a quarter of political prisoners were students and the Retting Report found students to be the main victims of forced disappearances.

In the 1980s, Pinochet completely reformed the Chilean educational system at all levels, under the guises of “liberty of education” and with the aim of reducing government intervention in education at all levels, giving more power to the private sector. The 1980 constitution guarantees “freedom of education” by granting parents the ‘preferential right’ to educate their children and to choose which schools to send their children to (Article 19). The constitution has also been interpreted to guarantee the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ (principio de subsidiariedad), which curtails the state’s intervention in most spheres and only compels it to ‘contribute to creating the social conditions which permit each and every one of those composing the national community the greatest spiritual and material fulfillment possible’ (Article 1.4). Only four days before leaving office in 1990, Pinochet promulgated a new constitutional organic law (the LOCE) which remained in place until 2009.

The overall performance of Chile’s education system set against Latin America has been fairly good: high test scores and high student aptitude on major subjects. However, in the OECD, it has the second-lowest results on the PISA test (after Mexico) and a large share of funding comes from private sources.

In primary and secondary education, the regime decentralized responsibility and management of public schools to the individual municipalities – claiming that municipalities would best respond to the individual needs and environments of the community. At the same time, the government created a school voucher system which allowed families to send their children to public (municipal) schools, private subsidized schools (which may screen students). In 1993, the Concertación allowed these schools to ask parents for a voluntary ‘co-pay’ (either admission fees or monthly tuition fees). In some schools, co-payments are mandatory; most schools ask for some kind of top-up fees, which in many cases are close to the monthly minimum wage). These schools thus receive subsidies from the state based on their student population. Since 1990, there has been a significant increase in private subsidized schools, which now include 54% of students while only 39% attend municipal schools.

Municipal schools often tend to be underfunded or unequally funded based on the socioeconomic level of the municipality, meaning that many schools have deficient infrastructure and lack access to new technologies. Private schools, which attract a wealthier clientele, have far better financial resources and often receive donations from private businesses. As a result, the education system is segregated by wealth, with better-off families sending their children to well-funded (often privately run, for-profit) schools which achieve better test scores; while poorer families attend underfunded municipal schools which have significantly lower results. Critics of the system have gone as far as calling it educational apartheid.

Post-Pinochet governments have done relatively little to alter the system at this level, except increasing subsidies and technical assistance to municipal schools. Public educational spending in Chile is only 4% of GDP, compared to over 5% in most OECD countries and below the UNESCO’s 7% recommendation. The LOCE was only replaced by a new general law on education in 2009 under Bachelet’s administration, but even this new law did not fundamentally alter the structure of the educational system. Her government raised the voucher to $100 per month with an extra $50 for poorer children, but her former finance minister Andrés Velasco has said that the value of the voucher must be doubled if poor children are not to lose out. In November 2011, the Piñera government proposed to increase the value of the voucher.

Post-secondary education was also transformed by the military junta in 1981, after having purged dissidents. Overall, his reforms aimed to allow the private sector to enter the university ‘market’ and abolish the ‘disruptive’ reforms of the Frei/Allende administration (co-government and university autonomy). The University of Chile and the State Technical University systems were atomized regionally, with 14 new public ‘traditional’ universities being created (mostly in 1981). The University of Chile (UCh) and the University of Santiago (former Technical University, USACH) only retained their Santiago seats. These 16 public universities and nine private universities, 6 of which are Catholic, are known as ‘traditional’ universities, form the Rectors’ Council, administer the Prueba de Selección Universitaria (PSU) admission exam (similar to the SAT) and receive funding from the state although they all charge tuition fees.

Pinochet also allowed private citizens to set up their own universities, legally non-profit entities. There are 34 private universities, all but one of which were founded after 1981. These universities are private properties and do not receive funding from the state. By law, they are required to be non-profit entities, but in practice most of these private universities are run like profit-seeking businesses – their owners often set up property companies which charge rent to the universities. Several politicians on both sides are shareholders in these ‘for-profit’ universities, in open defiance of the law. In 2012, the Universidad del Mar, a private university, was involved in a major corruption scandal after the rector accused the managing committee of filling their pockets (by ‘paying rent’ to the ‘property company’ which they owned) instead of paying faculty and staff. The university in question had been accused of having bribed the government board in charge of accreditation and of being a front for a money laundering operation.

All universities charge tuition fees, which form about 80% of all spending on higher education. Overall, 77% of expenditure in higher education comes from private sources (mostly households), the highest in the OECD (average: 30%). To help finance their studies, the government offers students with grants or loans. Students may receive grants on the basis of their PSU results, although this discriminates against poorer students who often have lower PSU results. Others may receive loans. Students at traditional universities may receive loans at 2% interest from the government, conditional on certain conditions including PSU results. All students, including those at private universities, may receive state-guaranteed bank loans at 5.8% interest. About 60% of students receive grants or loans, but oftentimes these do not cover the entirety of tuition fees. In many cases, families may only send their children to post-secondary institutions by taking on large debts.

To add to these problems, educational segregation continues in higher education. The traditional universities are the most prestigious and attract wealthier students, while private universities often attract poorer students with lower PSU results. Poorer students are more likely to drop out as well. Furthermore, attendance at universities and technical colleges is now over 1 million, up from only 200,000 in 1990. Therefore, as more people attend and graduate from universities, the premium they hold in the labour market falls and universities no longer provide the advantages they did when they were reserved to a minority.

2011 student protests

The demands expressed by students since 2011 are little different from those they expressed in 2006; most of the Bachelet government’s reforms fell short of their demands and failed to meet many students’ grievances.

The Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech), a confederation of student federations, the most important of which is the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECh), called for a demonstration in Santiago in early May 2011, attended by over 15,000 students. Beginning in June-July, students at many universities went on strike, while universities and some high schools were occupied by students which blocked access to classes. A demonstration on June 15 was attended by nearly 200,000 people across Chile, including 80,000 in Santiago; making it one of the largest demonstrations since 1990. As the Minister of Education, Joaquín Lavín, responded unsatisfactorily to the Confech’s demands, the student mobilization swelled even further. On June 30, about 400,000 people (according to organizers) demonstrated across the country, with about 80-200k in Santiago.

The Confech’s original demands included increasing public spending on higher education, equal opportunities for university admission, democratization of universities. As the movement progressed, students have demanded free post-secondary education and an effective oversight of the ban on profiteering; non-educational demands have included a constituent assembly to write a new constitution and a re-nationalization of copper (Pinochet did not privatize what Allende had nationalized in 1971, but small and newer copper mines are mostly private now). In secondary education, protesters demands included state control (rather than municipal) over education, prioritizing the right to education over the freedom of education, repealing the 2009 law on education and public financing of schools (rather than by local councils and parents through top-up fees).

The government remained reluctant to negotiate; Lavín claimed that the protests represented a ‘politicized’ (and leftist; most student feds are dominated by the extra-parliamentary left, including the Communists) minority of students from traditional universities. However, a few days later, in early July, the President announced a gran acuerdo nacional, promising more investment in education, a supervisory board to enforce the banon profiteering but opposed the nationalization of education.

Student leaders, represented by FECh president Camila Vallejo, rejected the proposals and organized an alternative committee backed by teachers, secondary school students, miners, indigenous students (Mapuche) and others. Another protest was held in mid-July, largely pacific although a few radicals and vandals went wild. Organizers alleged an excessive police response, criticizing the usage of tear gas. Since June, students had denounced police brutality, excessive force

Public opinion was very much on the side of the students; polls showed that a large majority backed the movement and their demands, Camila Vallejo became one of the most popular leaders and the president’s approval rating fell to 36% in May, 31% in June and 29% in July. Piñera’s disapproval rating on education shot up 16 points between April and May 2011 (34% to 50%) and increased to 75% in July.

On July 18, Piñera shuffled his cabinets, replacing his spokesperson and shuffling Lavín from education to planning. Felipe Bulnes became Minister of Education, and issued a call for students to stop their strikes and sit down for negotiations. At the same time, however, the President caused an uproar with student groups when he called education a ‘consumer good’.

Student leader Camila Vallejo (source:

In August 2011, the government came out with a second set of proposals. They included a constitutional guarantee to a quality education, state control over public education and increased grants and loans. The Confech and professors rejected the proposals, and called for a strike on August 4, despite it not being authorized by police. When students tried to meet, police responded with water cannons and tear gas while some subway stations were blocked off to students. Over 800 people were arrested on August 4, 90 policemen were wounded and a department store vandalized. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decried the limits on fundamental freedoms (speech, assembly) and excessive use of force.

On August 9, a general strike called by Confech and the CUT rallied 70-150k demonstrators in Santiago, where nearly 400 were arrested. On August 17, minister Bulnes issued a third series of proposals, which this time included a mixed system of grants for poorer students and reducing the interest rates on state-guaranteed private bank loans to 2%. Again, Vallejo and the Concertación rejected the proposals as insufficient, particularly as pertaining to profiteering and student indebtedness. There were more huge demonstrations in Santiago and across Chile in mid-August.

On August 24-25, the CUT backed by the Concertación and criticized by the government, called for a general nationwide strike in support of the Confech’s demands. The government’s numbers indicated a lower than expected turnout, with 14% rather than the customary 20% absenteeism; but on the second day, organizers claimed 500,000 participants across Chile. On the same day, a policeman killed a 16-year old student (they claimed the shots were fired in the air).

Preliminary negotiations between the President, the Ministry of Education and organizations including the Confech and the Rectors’ Council were held beginning in September 2011. The Confech declined to adhere to the ministry’s agenda and new demonstrations and cacerolazos took place throughout the month. Despite talks of divisions within Confech and disillusionment within the broader movement, a new day of paralyzing mobilizations on September 22 were a success, with 180,000 participants. The movement was hitting a standstill as negotiations failed because neither side were willing to compromise or accept the other side’s basic demands. The movement started petering out, although demonstrations continued into late 2011 and early 2012. In December 2011, Felipe Bulnes was replaced as Minister of Education by Harald Beyer.

The movement returned with large marches in April and June 2012. The movement, by 2012, had radicalized and those who tried to occupy schools were promptly dislodged by the police. There were more demonstrations in late 2012 and 2013.

In April 2013, the Senate impeached Harald Beyer, accusing him of not doing enough to fight profiteering in universities. His dismissal from office was poorly received by most Chileans, who saw it as a grubby act of revenge by the Concertación which wanted to ‘get back’ at the right who had impeached Michelle Bachelet’s Minister of Education, Yasna Provoste, in April 2008 for negligence in a subsidy scandal. The Concertación’s congressmen also had eggs on their faces when it turned out that the accusation case against him was plagiarized from previous cases and even stated wrong laws in a number of places.

The student movement was consistently supported by public opinion. In September 2012, 70% agreed with the students’ demands although 62% disapproved of the forms the demonstrations had taken by then. Piñera’s approval rating hit an historic low of 27% in August 2011 and 26% in April 2012, and his approval remained below 35% for most of the rest of 2011 and 2012. Only in 2013 did his approval rating break 35%, hitting 40% in October 2013. A huge majority of respondents in polls have disapproved of Piñera’s management of education: 81% in August 2011, and still 74% in October 2013. His education ministers have also faced low approval ratings: Beyer left office with 28% in March 2013, while his successor, Carolina Schmidt, saw her approval rating fall from 71% to 35% as she was shuffled from the minister responsible for women (SERNAM) to the education ministry.

Student leaders, especially FECh president (2010-2011) Camila Vallejo, who is a member of the Communist Youths (JJCC), gained international notoriety and, in many cases, acclaim. Students across Latin America, notably in Brazil and Mexico (where students have been behind a less successful anti-government movement, #YoSoy132), welcomed her with open arms Some, however, have criticized her for apparent double-standards: she is critical of the government and Pinochet’s legacy, but as a Communist she supports and visited Cuban leader Fidel Castro and spoke approvingly of the Cuban communist regime

As the movement went on, it became a wider protest against the dominant neoliberal economic model. Vallejo described the protests as the end of  “the cultural hegemony of the neoliberal model imposed on Chile during the military dictatorship” and that “the problem was structural”. The Economist said that “Piñera has thus become the butt of the pent-up frustrations of the past two decades”.

What is also significant of these protests (and others which took place under Piñera’s administration; from HidroAysén to Magallanes to Mapuche protests) is that while they express opposition to the government, they were organized totally independently from the Concertación, the opposition coalition which lost to the right in 2009-2010. The protests were organized independently, through the Confech and other social movements, who made use of social media (very popular with young Chileans) and the protests also featured flashmobs, among other ‘innovations’. Many student leaders were hostile to the Concertación, although opposition politicians (somewhat shamelessly) latched on to the protests and adopted the Confech’s demands wholesale (after not doing anything for them from 1990 to 2010). The Concertación’s approval throughout the movement remained low – lower than that of the Alliance/Coalition (whatever random name the right calls itself by now). In August 2011, only 17% approved of the job done by the opposition coalition while 22% approved of the job done by the right. Only in April 2013 did the Concertación’s approval barely surpass those of the right – although both of their numbers have been atrocious (21% and 20% in October 2013). Over 70% also disapprove of the job done by either house of Congress.

Candidates and issues

This presidential election was the most heavily contested in Chilean history since the restoration of democracy. No less than nine candidates qualified to run (candidates must obtain 35,000 signatures if they are independents or 20,000 if backed by a political party).

There were two major changes to the electoral system since 2009: voting was made voluntary although registration of all eligible voters over 18 was made automatic (the previous law, passed by Pinochet, made voting mandatory but registration manual); open presidential primaries organized by the national electoral service (Servel) were held for both main coalitions on June 30. The automatic registration of voters, first used in last year’s municipal elections, caused some controversy when administrative mistakes and the lack of valid death certificates automatically registered Salvador Allende and thousands of desaparecidos as eligible voters!

The Concertación coalition re-branded itself as the Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) as it expanded to include the Communists, the Movimiento Amplio Social (MAS) and the Izquierda Ciudadana. The Communists, who are relatively moderate, ran their own candidate in 2009 but their candidates ran on Concertación lists for Congress in the congressional elections that year. In 2012, the PCCh ran in coalition with the PPD and PRSD in the municipal elections, in which the Concertación between the Concertación Democrática (PS, PDC) and the Por un Chile justo (PPD, PRD, Communists etc). The MAS was founded in 2006 by PS senator Alejandro Navarro (who was on the PS’ left) and ran as part of MEO’s coalition in the 2009 election. The Izquierda Ciudadana was founded in June 2012 from the merger of various parties, most prominent among which was the Izquierda Cristiana, a Christian left (and pro-Allende) offshoot of the PDC founded in 1971 and which had become a revolutionary socialist party. In 2005, they backed the Communists’ Juntos Podemas Más coalition while in 2009 they joined the Concertación.

Bachelet’s campaign poster in the primaries (source: Wikipedia)

The favourite for the Nueva Mayoría nomination was Michelle Bachelet, the former president who left office with approvals over 80% in 2010. Earlier in 2013, she resigned from her international job as head of UN Women and announced her candidacy. In the primaries, she faced three opponents: the former mayor of Peñalolén Claudio Orrego Larraín (PDC), Senator José Antonio Gómez (PRSD) and former finance minister Andrés Velasco (independent). There were little differences between the candidates: Orrego, from the PDC’s conservative wing, stood out with conservative views on moral issues; José Antonio Gómez, the PRSD’s party boss, comes from the left-wing (aguirrecerdistas) of the PRSD (Gómez notably called on nationalizing pensions altogether and a constituent assembly); Andrés Velasco, Bachelet’s finance minister, is a US-educated liberal technocrat whose decision to save rather than to spend the windfall from copper revenues made him popular during the economic crisis.

Bachelet, far ahead of the pack, focused on her “grassroots ties” and her platform was quite to the left of what she governed as between 2006 and 2010. She was backed by the PS, the social democratic PPD, the MAS, IC and the Communists. Some Communists wanted to back Gómez, but Vallejo (a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies) and party leader Guillermo Teillier endorsed Bachelet. On June 30, Bachelet won the nomination with 73.1% against 13% for Velasco, 8.9% for Orrego and 5.1% for Gómez. For her rivals, the primaries were unsurprisingly a bloodbath; but especially so for the PDC, which is increasingly uneasy about the leftist direction of the opposition coalition, particularly the alliance with the Communists (similarly, some Communists are uneasy about the PDC. Gómez, who had already run unsuccessfully in the 2009 primaries against Frei, was humiliated and finished. Only Velasco’s good result allows him to look towards 2017.

Bachelet’s platform was fairly left-leaning, compared to the Concertación’s traditional centrism. The three main pillars of her platform were education reform, tax reform and a new constitution.

On education, prodded by the student movement, Bachelet’s landmark promise was free post-secondary education within six years. By the end of her term, she promises that the poorest 70% will have access to free post-secondary education, and then expanded to the remaining 30% of the population after she leaves office in 2017. However, she has provided very little additional information on how she intends to pursue such reforms, leaving many student leaders skeptical. Andrés Fielbaum, the outgoing president of the FECh, wonders if Bachelet’s promise for free education means direct financing of institutions or just expanding grants and loans. He is also skeptical of her promise to end profiteering in all levels of education (including general education). Bachelet’s platform promises to give public funding only to non-profit educational institutions; many wonder if this subtle discrepancy means that schools not financed by the government will be allowed to make profits.

Other educational reforms she promises included gradually ending co-payments by parents, ending municipal control of schools by placing them under a decentralized agency in the Ministry of Education, ending all forms of screening in schools, improving teacher training, creating new government agencies in higher education to control the ban on profiteering or to promote better relations with educators.

Her education plan, she says, would require extra funding of 1.5-2% of GDP per year. This would presumably be raised through her tax reform, the second main axis of her platform which she says would raise an additional $8.2 billion (her total spending promises amount to $15.1 billion). Chile’s tax system favours the rich, although it has proved rather effective at promoting private savings and investments. However, Chile only raises 21.4% of its GDP through taxes, the second lowest in the OECD after Mexico (which is also currently moving forward on a tax reform to increase revenues). The OECD found that only 17% pay personal income taxes; combined with indirect taxes, this make Chile’s tax system regressive. Bachelet’s reform would increase tax intake by 3% of GDP, 2.5% of which would come through tax reforms and 0.5% through tougher measures on tax evasion.

Bachelet’s tax reforms include increasing the corporate tax from 20% to 25% (already increased from 18.5% by the government recently) and reducing the personal income tax rate for the top bracket from 40% to 35%. Her biggest change to the tax system, however, is her promise to eliminate the Taxable Profits Fund (FUT), a fund created under Pinochet in 1984 to promote private savings. The FUT allows businesses to declare profits as assets and ‘save’ them; they may then pay a discounted income tax on them. The FUT’s critics say that it has become a tax avoidance scheme, allowing wealthy businessmen to indefinitely defer tax payments. Bachelet’s platform argues that the FUT does not exist anywhere else in the world and that it has outlived its utility. Bachelet denies charges that her tax reforms would hurt investment, and her platform talks of incentives for investment (especially for small and medium businesses, known in Spanish as PyMEs).

Her third major project is a new constitution, to replace the 1980 constitution. Although almost all authoritarian enclaves have been reformed out of the constitution since 1989, Bachelet says that Chile needs a new constitution which is more democratic and does more to guarantee human rights and civil liberties. Her proposal joins growing demands from social movements, notably students, for a new constitution. Some of the rights she wants protected by a new constitution include: right to life, physical integrity, right to equality (no discrimination on sexual, ethnic etc grounds; gender equality), right to personal security, right to due process, rights of the child, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, socioeconomic rights, recognition of indigenous peoples and protection of sexual orientation/gender identities. On more concrete grounds, she would likely do away with the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ and replace it with a ‘social state’ (estado social, y democrático de derecho) with greater responsibilities for socioeconomic solidarity. She wants to change the electoral system (abolish binomial system), lower the quorum for accepting laws (the current constitution requires higher quorums for changing certain laws), reaffirm the separation of Church and state and greater decentralization (directly-elected regional executives). Bachelet is, however, very ambiguous on how she intends to change the constitution: the platform only says it must be elaborated in a ‘democratic, institutional and participatory’ process.

Bachelet promises a pension reform, with the creation of a public pension fund (AFP) to complement the private AFP created by the pension reform in 1981. Chile’s pension system, another Pinochet legacy, has been criticized because it is vulnerable to global economic cycles and pensioners usually receive only a small share of the pre-retirement salaries (37% for women, 60% for men). In 2008, Bachelet’s government had passed a pension reform which aimed to cover poorer individuals with a taxpayer-funded pension system (SPS) and to reduce administrative costs. But criticism has not stopped, and many on the left and the CUT want the private AFP gone completely.

Her platform has also taken liberal stances on moral issues, in a conservative and still rather religious country. She wants to have an “open debate” on same-sex marriage and send a bill to legalize same-sex marriage to Congress. Unlike in the United States, same-sex marriage has not created culture wars (although a majority still probably oppose it), although homosexuality was only legalized in 1999 and the fight for homosexual rights was long and tortuous. Chileans are now broadly accepting of homosexuality, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey (2013) found 68% acceptance for homosexuality and only 24% disapproval (the second highest in Latin America behind Argentina, and higher than the US). The issue gained national prominence in March 2012, when neo-Nazi skinheads murdered Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year old gay man. The hate crime sparked a wave of indignation. In November 2011, the Senate approved an anti-discrimination bill 23 votes to 11 (most of the UDI and RN voted against). Her platform also promotes a gender equality law which would protect gender identity.

Chile is one of a handful of countries where abortion is illegal in all circumstances, including in cases of rape or threat to the mother’s life, and it is punishable by imprisonment. Chile actually had more liberal abortion laws in the past, having legalized therapeutic abortions in 1931, but Pinochet banned it without exceptions in 1989. The 1980 constitution (Article 19) protects the life of the unborn. The generally low-key issue made headlines in July 2013, when an 11-year old girl who was raped and impregnated by her step-father. She decided to keep her baby, a decision which Piñera (who is pro-life) said proved her ‘depth and maturity’. The incident reopened the abortion debate, and Bachelet proposes to decriminalize abortion in cases of threat to the mother’s life, rape or unviability of the fetus. Pro-choice groups such as Amnesty International feel that she does not go far enough.

On the right, the RN and UDI’s perennial coalition was known as the Alliance (Alianza) this year. The UDI, founded in 1983, finds its roots in Jaime Guzmán’s gremialista movement (see the section on education above) and is the most conservative of the two parties on the right. Almost all of its leaders were supporters of Pinochet’s regime until the end (or the sons/daughters of regime supporters), although most high-ranking UDI leaders such as Joaquín Lavín, Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick have moderated their past support for Pinochet but others such as Iván Moreira and Cristian Labbé (a former DINA agent) still publicly support the former dictator. The UDI remains strongly influenced by gremialismo; but although it has usually been a strong supporter of limited government and the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ it has shifted towards talking of a ‘social market economy’. It does remain extremely socially conservative; it speaks of “Western and Christian civilization”, “Christian values” and views social reforms (abortion, gay marriage) as part of a new Marxist hegemonic strategy. The RN, founded in 1987, largely by Pinochet supporters, is the more liberal of the two. It is more supportive, nowadays, of the free market and neoliberalism than the UDI and it is also more enthusiastic about democracy and anti-totalitarian than the UDI.

The Alliance’s nominating process was chaotic. The right’s strongest candidate was Laurence Golborne, an independent engineer and businessman who became wildly popular with his management of the miners’ rescue while Minister of Mines (2010-2011), who later served as Minister of Energy and finally Minister of Public Works. He resigned to run for president in December 2012, and was seen as one of the right’s best hopes against Bachelet. He was the most popular cabinet minister when he left office, with 76% approval ratings. He had successfully maintained high levels of support despite his role in the Magallanes gas crisis (he supported the fare increase) and revelations of conflict of interest in the HidroAysén project. Golborne, backed by the UDI, was set to run against Andrés Allamand, a founding member of the RN and the very popular former Minister of Defense (until Dec. 2012). In April 2013, however, Golborne soon found himself embroiled in two major scandals. First, the Supreme Court fined Cencosud, the holding company which Golborne had managed before joining cabinet, for abusive practices. Later, it was revealed that Golborne had failed to declare his share in a property company in the British Virgin Islands. This last revelation proved fatal and he was forced to drop out. Lacking a candidate, the UDI turned to Pablo Longueira, the Minister of the Economy and a respected longtime member of the UDI.

Both candidates were very similar on the issues, and the campaign was fairly boring. Longueira defeated Allamand by a tight margin; 51.37% against 48.62% (22,198 votes). Overall, turnout in the right’s primaries – despite them being far more competitive (but ironically less combative) – was much lower than in the Nueva Mayoría primaries: 72.6% of votes cast in the latter, only 27.4% in the former. Overall, turnout was 22.2% (considered as decent).

The Alliance’s troubles, however, didn’t stop there. Allamand’s defeat demotivated him, but his decision to run for Senate (by taking the spot given to his spokesperson, Carolina Parot) was somewhat controversial. Then on July 17, Longuiera, citing a medically diagnosed depression, dropped out. The right, panicking, evaluated its options – backing an independent candidate to focus on congressional races, pick Allamand as a replacement, pick another replacement from within UDI/RN ranks or pick two replacements (one from each party). The first option would likely have killed the right in congressional elections, and Allamand was not a strong pick and the RN itself was disorganized and lacked strong candidates. Eventually, the UDI kind of imposed Evelyn Matthei, the Minister of Labour and Social Security.

Matthei, another senior politician, is the daughter of General Fernando Matthei, commander in chief of the air force between 1978 and 1991 and a member of Pinochet’s ruling junta. Ironically, both Matthei and Bachelet were childhood friends, living on air force compounds where their fathers were commanders. Those ties were strained by the military coup: Matthei backed the coup, although he was abroad in September 1973, while Bachelet was pro-Allende. He was arrested on the day of the coup, detained and tortured at the Air Force Academy (which was now led by Matthei). He died in March 1974 from a myocardial infarction as a result of the torture he had suffered. Victims’ families associations have sought to prosecute Matthei for his alleged role in the torture. In September 2012, a court rejected their attempts and judged that there was insufficient evidence to prove Matthei played any role in Bachelet’s death. Matthei, still alive at 88, denies all charges and still considers the late general his ‘friend’ but admits he lacked courage at the time.

Matthei was fairly popular as labour minister (left office with 55% approval) but is known as the ‘Iron Lady’ for her confrontational style; as minister, she clashed with parliamentarians on a few occasions.

Matthei’s campaign poster: “Evelyn – winning together” (source: Wikipedia)

Matthei’s platform is fundamentally conservative, standing out from the rest of the field on a number of major issues where almost all other candidates favour some kind of reforms. In most cases, Matthei defends the status-quo, arguing that the ‘Chilean model’ has been successful and that major reforms are either unnecessary or unwise. Although I doubt Piñera had much interest in the presidential race given the UDI-RN spat, Matthei underlined the outgoing president’s strong-suits – the strong economy and low unemployment rate.

Unlike the other candidates, therefore, Matthei didn’t really stand out with any groundbreaking proposals of her own. Her main promises include 600,000 new jobs, increasing the state-funded basic pensions, subsidizing public transit for seniors and tougher crime laws (more police, jail without parole for repeat offenders; she supports two current bills which would criminalize verbal harassment against police and an anti-encapuchado bill against masked vandals). Healthcare is also a top issue for her, and her platform talked about 100 new clinics, freedom of choice for all in the public health insurance system (FONASA; the poor who are automatically covered, may not currently choose their healthcare providers – which requires additional co-pays), reducing wait times and better management of hospitals.

Matthei opposes free post-secondary education, unlike all other candidates. Matthei, like the incumbent president, say that free education would be regressive because it would offer state funding to poor and rich students alike. An OECD report warned against free higher education for the same reasons. She struck a populist note here, but during a debate she also said that the rich should not foot the bill for free higher education. Like the incumbent government, her solution for access to post-secondary education lies in better grants and loans. Matthei also supports continued use of co-payments in general education and was fairly vague on the future of municipal schools. Her platform’s education planks mostly emphasized other issues: promoting and expanding pre-school (voluntary) education, increased basic salaries for teachers and a special subsidy for 1,000 ‘priority’ schools.

Matthei opposes Bachelet’s proposals for tax and pension reform. Abolishing the FUT, she says, would dangerously stifle investment. Matthei also opposes the creation of a public AFP; for her, problems with AFPs are due to low employee contributions. Therefore, she wants to increase the level of mandatory contributions to the system (10 to 14%).

Evelyn Matthei also opposes Bachelet’s proposal for a new constitution. Matthei prefers small constitutional reforms, such as decentralization, term limits for congressman and local officials, reducing presidential powers and more citizen participation. She also opposes Bachelet on moral issues: Matthei supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage and she opposes any change to abortion laws (although she did support legalizing therapeutic abortions in 2010).

Matthei recently lambasted Bachelet’s proposal for a secular state, reaffirming her commitment to traditional Christian values. She even went as far as committing her “future government, if that is God’s will and I arrive there, to a path in which nothing contradicts the teachings of the Bible.”

Back for a second time was Marco Enríquez-Ominami, the PS dissident who won a record 20.1% running as an independent in 2009. As aforementioned, MEO, who holds dual Chilean and French citizenship, is the son of MIR cofounder Miguel Enríquez, who was killed in 1974. Before entering politics in 2005, MEO was a filmmaker who directed movies, telenovelas or documentaries. Elected to Congress as a Socialist in 2005, he left the party to run as a dissident/independent in 2009. In 2010, after his successful presidential candidacy, MEO founded his own party, the Progressive Party (PRO). A coalition led by MEO’s PRO won 4.5% in last year’s municipal elections, winning 45 seats and 7 municipalities (including Arica, a regional capital). This year, MEO formed a small coalition, Si tú quieres, Chile cambia (if you want, Chile changes) with the PRO, the Liberal Party of Chile (formerly known as Chile Primero, founded in 2007 by PPD leaders who had denounced corruption in the PPD) and the allendista faction of the PS. Chile Primero/the Liberals had backed the right-wing Coalition in 2009, but new leaders took over in 2010 and gradually broke with the right.

MEO’s campaign poster and slogan/coalition (source:

MEO’s platform was clearly left-wing. The cornerstones of his platform were what he defined as three universal (free) rights: education, healthcare and pensions. He also wants to convene a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. As in 2009, he was very critical of the conciliatory and conservative political system which has predominated since 1990; while he claims that he supports competition and the free market, he was also very critical of the neoliberal philosophy dominant in education, healthcare and pensions.

MEO’s educational platform coincided with Bachelet and other candidates on issues such as ‘de-municipalizing’ education, abolishing co-payments, ending educational segregation and free education. Where they differ, he claimed, was that Bachelet sees education only as an economic problem, whereas MEO said that the entire system’s philosophy of competition (which replaced, he said ‘a humanist vision’ in the 80s) needs to go. His platform indeed placed significant emphasis on replacing the standardized tests (SIMCE) with decentralized, region-specific, multidimensional and multi-functional assessments.

The ‘right to healthcare’, which would be constitutionally guaranteed, means a universal healthcare system for all and the construction of new hospitals and clinics.

MEO was strongly critical of the AFPs, which he contends have failed in their initial goal of reducing public spending, fail to guarantee decent pensions and expose pensioners to the global financial whirlwinds. He also highlighted the high administrative costs and commissions charged by the AFPs, one of the more contentious points of the system. His platform proposed to introduced a mixed system, with a universal state-funded PAYGO pension pillar and additional, voluntary private AFPs which would be strictly regulated – a 7% limit on administrative costs and co-responsibility if they have negative returns.

How would he finance all this (his platform said this would cost 5% of GDP)? MEO’s platform supported the re-nationalization of copper, abolishing the FUT, increasing the corporate tax to 26%, a wealth tax of 1% on wealth above $1 million, reducing military spending and closing tax loopholes.

Political reform through a new constitution was also a major axis in MEO’s campaign. His political reforms included: a constitution guaranteeing human and social rights, a semi-presidential republic with a unicameral Congress (creation of a Prime Minister, two-term limit for presidents, PR electoral system), a federal state and increasing citizen participation (referenda etc). Unlike Bachelet, MEO was clear in how he intended to achieve this: a constituent assembly.

Running as an independent was Franco Parisi, a ‘TV economist’, most famous for his TV and radio appearances to explain economic concepts in ‘simple terms’. In 2011, he began hosting a TV show with his brother called Los Parisi: el poder de la gente (the power of the people). Parisi’s independent presidential candidacy took up el poder de la gente as its slogan and popular catchphrase.

Although Parisi is described as centre-right and even neoliberal, his platform was largely populist and anti-establishment. On economic policies, he proposed a mixed-bag of policies to help entrepreneurship (lowering interest rates on bank loans, deferring companies’ first payment of the VAT, allowing personal bankruptcy). He also supported a state-funded AFP, abolishing the FUT, raising corporate taxes to 26%, reducing the VAT on basic foodstuffs from 19% to 10%, removing the tax on books (which is very high in Chile), adjusting the minimum wage to GDP per capita, free education (in ‘traditional’ universities), shortening undergraduate studies and clearing shantytowns. He also strongly supported alternative energy, specifically hydropower and solar energy. Parisi did not emphasize the topic as much as some of the other candidates, but he too backed a new constitution and abolishing the binomial system.

However, ideology and policy weren’t his main preoccupations. A lot of his appeal, which grew rapidly during the campaign, was based on an anti-system and anti-politician rhetoric which accused the main politicians of having ties with special interests (contrasted with Parisi’s own ‘independence’) and of being responsible for all the country’s woes. His supporters saw in him a refreshing, independent candidate who took up their disillusionment with the political system; his critics saw in him a populist demagogue.

Parisi’s success, largely by taking up RN and centre-right voters, worried Matthei. On October 20, she accused him of owing workers in high schools he owned some 500 million pesos and said that he was unfit to be a candidate.

Parisi’s YouTube campaign jingle proved to be pretty popular; although in my eyes it’s only repeating mindless slogans of the kind ‘the power of the people’ or ‘a united country cannot go backwards’.

Marcel Claude, an economist, academic and activist, was the candidate of the Humanist Party (PH). Politically, while firmly on the left today, he was more on the right in the 1970s: in 1973, he was in the PDC’s youth movement and opposed Allende (today, he praises him) and was a member of the PPD until 1995. Claude was the candidate of the Humanist Party, supported by smaller unregistered left-wing parties grouped as the Todos a La Moneda (also stylized Tod@s a La Moneda; meaning Everyone to La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago). The Humanists, founded in 1984, are a left-libertarian, humanist, ecosocialist and pacifist party. They had been the second wheel to the Communists in the Juntos Podemos Más coalition, until the Humanists broke with them to back MEO in 2009. The Communists had been proving too keen on working with the Concertación for the Humanists’ tastes.

Claude had one of the most left-wing platforms, along with Roxana Miranda (who differs from Claude mostly in that she’s more provocative and crazier).

One of the main axes of the Claude campaign was a call for a new constitution drafted by a constituent assembly, to replace the “undemocratic and illegitimate” pinochetista constitution. The new document would increase citizen participation (direct elections of the judiciary, direct democracy with initiatives, popular veto referenda, participation in public services), create a federal state, abolish the ‘principle of subsidiarity’, eliminate the idea of the family as the ‘fundamental nucleus of society, better promote human rights and create a ‘multinational, pluricultural and multilingual’ society (recognition of the native peoples). Claude said that he wanted to ‘start fresh, like Chávez, Morales and Correa did’.

Obviously, Claude fully supports same-sex marriage and adoption rights as well as the legalization of abortion on demand.

On economic issues, his campaign argued for a new economic model with a strengthened state to stop the devolution of power to multinational corporations. Concrete proposals included nationalization of all natural resources (including copper), abolishing the AFPs  (‘eradicating them from the face of the earth’ as he said) in favour of the PAYGO system, raising corporate taxes to 35%, a 25% royalty on foreign investments in major natural resources, reducing the VAT to 16% and exempting basic necessities from it, and reducing defense spending. It also proposed a universal healthcare system with no co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses, a free and high-quality education system (with 25% of the budget to be spent on education) and a right to housing.

His diplomatic policy emphasized pacifism (constitutional ban on war, adopting the Tlatelolco Treaty), removing all foreign military bases from Chile and promoting Latin American integration. In a break with basically every major politician in Chile, Claude proposed a solution the Bolivian sea access issue through shared sovereignty – a very radical proposal in Chile.

Alfredo Sfeir, an economist and spiritual leader (Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation), was the candidate of the Green Ecologist Party (Partido Ecologista Verde, PEV). Like in most of South America, the Chilean greens are weak and often seek alliances with other parties. Before Sfeir, only one green candidate ran for president – environmentalist economist Manfred Max Neef, who won 5.6% in 1993. In 2009 and  2012, the PEV was part of MEO’s coalition.

Of course, traditional environmental and sustainable development issues, from a fairly ‘deep green’ (skeptical of globalization, anti-materialistic, humanism) perspective, were big in his platform. It promoted new forms of economic development which would be totally sustainable, green entrepreneurship programs, entrenching principles of corporate responsibility and calling on all businesses to report their contributions to the green economy. Sfeir also called for a national energy policy taking into account human needs (including future generations). A lot of his proposals also emphasized the need for rural development: more schools, universities, hospitals/clinics and so forth in rural areas.

Like other candidates, Sfeir supported a new constitution and free education.

Sfeir attracted attention for his rather quirky behaviour and fashion (many compared him to Count Dooku in Star Wars), and his left-field views on some issues. Likely because he’s also a spiritual leader, post-materialistic values and spirituality were fairly central to proposals: replacing GDP with a measure of human well-being, promoting spirituality and emphasis on human development and well-being rather than materialistic values. On healthcare, for example, he said that he wanted to develop and expand the use of alternative medicines.

Roxana Miranda’s campaign poster: “Roxana is the people: we will write the constitution” (source: Wikipedia)

Roxana Miranda, a social activist, was the candidate of the leftist Equality Party (Partido Igualdad). Miranda, who proudly stated during debates that she had been arrested several times during protests, drew attention because of her colourful, provocative and outspoken personality. In debates, she was reprimanded for using props: a copper pipe to show that she supports copper nationalization, public transit cards to ask the main candidates if they knew how much they cost or what they looked like and a spoon (for some reason). She declined to talk about crime at a debate because the criminals, she said, were in Congress. Her platform referred to the location and date as ‘the south Pacific of Abya Yala’ (a pre-Colombian native name for the Americas) in ‘the year 2013 of the calendar of the conquistador‘. Defining herself as a protest vote, her detailed platform was far-left, anti-capitalist and populist. While she likely realized that a lot of her proposals were silly or totally unrealistic, she sought to draw attention to inequalities in Chile.

Extremely critical of the neoliberal model, Miranda’s platform advocated ‘overcoming capitalism’ with measures such as popular control of the means of production, re-industrialization, workers’ self-management, eliminating the ‘socially regressive’ VAT and replacing it with higher corporate (up to 33%) and income taxes, a 60% tax on luxury goods, nationalization of natural resources, a new agrarian reform (breaking agribusiness) and rationing copper production. Socially, Miranda wanted to abolish the AFPs, abolish the private healthcare providers (Isapres), guarantee a right to housing, and free public education with a “socialist and revolutionary orientation”.

Her platform also proposed radical political reforms, to break what she called the ‘oligarchic-dynastic regime’ and the ties between capitalists and the state. Her proposals included a new constitution to be drafted by all citizens. She called for decentralization, rights and autonomy for indigenous peoples (the Mapuche), direct elections of all offices (including the judiciary), subjecting politicians to recall, transforming the armed forces to defend from ‘capitalist reactions’ and placing the armed forces under popular control within a regionally-integrated defense system. Miranda openly said that Chile is a bad neighbor, and she is very supportive of Latin American integration – defined here as a revolutionary anti-capitalist goal. Among other things, she considered ceding full sovereignty to Bolivia over a strip of land to give them access to the Pacific.

Ricardo Israel, an academic and lawyer, ran for the Regionalist Party of Independents (Partido Regionalista de los Independientes, PRI). The PRI was founded in 2006 by the merger of two small regionalist parties. The PRI is a minor party, but it has been of some importance because it has attracted a few dissident members of the Concertación to its ranks, most famously PDC Senator Adolfo Zaldívar, who joined the party in 2009. In the 2009 elections, the PRI-led coalition won three seats in the Chamber – all three were former members of the Concertación and two were incumbent deputies.

Israel was something of a reluctant candidate, it seems, because the PRI originally sought to back Franco Parisi, who refused because he wanted to remain independent from all parties. Unsurprisingly, Israel’s campaign attracted very little attention from anybody and apparently focused a lot on his conservative stances on abortion or gay marriage.

Chile is a very centralized state, despite the great geographic diversity throughout the thin but long country’s 4000km from north to south. Santiago has traditionally concentrated all political and economic power; businesses, politics, universities and so forth remain heavily centered in the Greater Santiago which is also the country’s wealthiest region. Chile’s fifteen administrative regions were created during the military regime, solely for planning purposes (tellingly, they had no official names and were just numbered – today, regions have names but also keep a number). Only with the transition did decision-makers begin to have some interest in decentralization, deconcentration of government departments (today, all but four ministries are ‘deconcentrated’ with regional secretariats, SEREMIs, in each region) and the regions as a level for popular participation in governance. Yet, decentralization is still at a very early stage – the regions are administered by an Intendant, appointed by the President, and regional councils (CORES) were not directly elected until this year. The rise of popular participation in daily politics (Chile having been a very elitist country for a long time, and still is today), the greater presence of social movements and democracy in and of itself have led to demands for regional autonomy, democratization at the regional level and decentralization.

Regionalism as the expression of distinct regional/national identities (on cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious etc grounds) is fairly weak in a centralized nation-state like Chile; however, there are strong regional demands for more decision-making power and greater regional equity in economic and social development. The southernmost regions of Aysén and Magallanes in Patagonia, which are very isolated and basically disconnected from the rest of Chile (Magallanes can only be accessed by road through Argentina, and the road to Aysén includes three ferries), have been at the forefront of regionalist demands and sentiments – as seen through the 2011 Magallanes and 2012 Aysén protests.

Basically all candidates in this election promised some kind of decentralization through greater democratization and greater regional equity in distribution of resources. Bachelet wants intendants to be directly elected, Matthei wants part of the taxes on infrastructure projects in a region to go to the region itself, other candidates go as far as promising a federal state. That might explain why Israel’s regionalist platform didn’t attract much support.

Indeed, his planks on regionalism weren’t exceptional compared to the others (Miranda and Claude went further, it seems, in their demands for decentralization and federalism…). He proposed a ‘regional state’, with more democratization (direct election a president of the regional government, regional input in SEREMI nominations), regional management of key infrastructure (health, public education, environment) and judicial decentralization. On education or healthcare, Israel did put greater emphasis on the need for regional equity (rural areas and isolated regions having poorer schools and less post-secondary options). He also proposed a new constitution, although it would be built through input from various institutions, the international community and citizens.

Israel was generally left-leaning on economic issues (but emphasizing the middle-class and small businesses), with the platform stressing the “correction of the neoliberal economic model and the economic concentration in the markets” and proposed things such a state-funded AFP, a public universal healthcare system, free higher education for all but the wealthiest two income levels, reforming commercial business licensing laws (biased towards big retailers) and ending the privatization of water. He opposed, however, nationalizing copper – instead, he wanted stricter conditions and tax law on private mining companies (Chile has very generous conditions for mining companies) and ‘Chileanization’ of copper refinement with at least 51% of copper extracted to be refined by a mixed public-private enterprise.

Israel was the only candidates besides Matthei to be on the record opposing same-sex marriage and abortion under all circumstances.

The last candidate, Tomás Jocelyn-Holt, was a PDC deputy between 1994 and 2002. He ran a low-key campaign and never attracted significant support. His claims to fame are his family ties (he is the great-grand grandchild of former President José Manuel Balmaceda, and the great-nephew of former President Carlos Ibáñez) and falling off his bicycle on his way to a debate in October. He then used a bicycle as his campaign logo.

Jocelyn-Holt’s platform was liberal and progressive, fairly unremarkable. His four axes of focus were democratic reforms, tax reform, civil and cultural rights and strengthening the state’s role in healthcare and education. In a field where basically all candidates except Matthei argued in favour of a new constitution, Jocelyn-Holt only proposed reforming the current constitution with measures such as the election of Intendants, redistribution of seats in Congress, making ministers responsible to Congress, allowing the President to dissolve Congress, term-limits for congressmen, a judicial reform and constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights. His tax reform included cutting the VAT and personal income tax, eliminating the FUT and removing the VAT from books. Jocelyn-Holt had fairly liberal stances on civil and cultural rights and moral issues: same-sex marriage and adoption, a gender identity law for transsexuals, legalization of therapeutic abortion in certain circumstances and decriminalization of marijuana. On healthcare and education, he proposed ‘demunicipalization’ of schools, ending co-pays, freezing tuition fees, moving towards free post-secondary education for 4/5 of the population, and a mandatory basic public insurance system for all.

Jocelyn-Holt placed emphasis on the youth – his slogan was atrévete por un Chile joven (dare for a young Chile) – and proposed things such as tax incentives for youth entrepreneurship projects.

40 years after the coup

September 11 marked the fortieth anniversary of the military coup of 1973 which overthrew Salvador Allende. Forty years on, even if an increasing share of the electorate was born after the 1988 plebiscite and/or after the transition in 1990, the issue continues to polarize and divide Chile. It became clear when President Piñera organized a commemoration of the coup at La Moneda, inviting all former Presidents and all presidential candidates. The opposition, however, refused and Bachelet organized her own event at the Museo de la Memoria, a museum dedicated to human rights violations under Pinochet. No former President attended Piñera’s official event, and only three presidential candidates came (Matthei, Sfeir, Israel). Although both Piñera and Bachelet said broadly the same things – the need for greater truth and reconciliation – the competing events underlined how politicized the Pinochet legacy remains in Chile.

Many on the left accuse the right, particularly the UDI, of being interested in polishing their image and washing off their past support for the regime. Within the Concertación, the PDC, which practically asked for the coup in 1973, has also been hard at work trying to rewrite its history and pretend as if it stood by Allende. A small minority on the right and far-right still hold Pinochet in high esteem, as the man who ‘liberated’ the country from Marxism and the threat of socialist ‘totalitarianism’ and made country an economic miracle. Matthei tried to downplay the memory of the coup and the regime, but she said that she had no reason to ask for forgiveness because she was 20 in 1973. On the other hand, moderate UDI Senator Hernán Larraín apologized for his party’s actions in the past.

A June 2013 poll by CERC asked Chileans their opinions on a number of questions related to the coup and the regime. The results showed a net increase in negative opinions towards Pinochet and his regime. 41% blamed Pinochet for the coup (+ 6% who blamed the military), up from 24% ten years ago. Only 13% blamed Allende or communism, down 3% since 2003. However, there were stark political divides on that issue: a majority of UDI and RN supporters blamed Allende or communism (55%), only 9% and 18% respectively blamed Pinochet. In contrast, a majority of PDC, PPD and PS supporters blamed Pinochet. Chilean youths were also more likely to blame Pinochet than their elders: 47% of those 18-25 blamed the former dictator, while only 36% of those over 61 blamed him. However, younger respondents are also far more likely to have no opinion on the question: over 30% of those under 40 had no opinion, only 15% of those over 61 did.

Similarly, 68% of respondents felt the military had no reason to stage the coup, up 20% since 2003 and 14% since 2009. Only 16% said the military had reasons to do what they did; in 2003, 36% shared that opinion. Again, however, a majority of right-wingers say that the military had reasons (69% and 52% for the UDI and RN respectively), over 80% of Concertación parties’ supporters said the military had no reason. The oldest voters were 10 points more likely to say that the military had reasons than the youngest voters.

63% defined the coup as destruction of democracy and 18% as liberation from Marxism, up 9 and down 6 from 2009 respectively. The right, again, was far more likely to see the coup as liberation from Marxism – with 69% of UDI and 53% of RN supporters seeing it in those terms.

Interestingly, after declining consistently since 2004, the share of those who said the divisions created by the regime have not been forgotten shot up this year to 74%. Partisan and generational agreement is much higher on this question. Similarly, 75% said that the legacy left by the military regime were still there.

Chileans have usually seen Pinochet’s legacy in gray rather than black and white terms, but the poll showed a 14% increase (to 37%) of those who said his regime was only bad; the proportion of those who say it was only good (7%) and mixed (40%) are at historic lows, and the number of those who had no opinion (16%) is much higher than in the 1990s and early 2000s. Younger Chileans are, unsurprisingly, those who are the most apathetic on this issue, with 38% having no opinion. 76% of respondents consider Pinochet as a dictator (+10 since 2009) and only 9% see him as one of Chile’s best leaders. Even UDI and RN supporters, in majority, see him as a dictator.


Turnout was 49.33% in the first presidential and congressional elections in which voting was voluntary but registration automatic. In 2009, when voting was compulsory, turnout was 87.66%. In the 2012 municipal elections, the first elections with the new rules, turnout was about 43%. However, the size of electorate (registered voters) increased by 63.8%, from 8,285,186 in 2009 to 13,573,143 this year. In 2009, 7,264,136 votes were cast; in this election, 6,696,229 votes were cast. Therefore, despite the expansion of the electorate by 64% since 2009, the number of votes cast fell by 7.8%.

The reasons for the low turnout is likely widespread disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the political system (in a recent poll, 50% identified with neither the left or right, and 25% did not place themselves on a left-right scale of 1-10) and major parties, as well as the low interest in the campaign and election given how Bachelet was the runaway favourite. Indeed, for months the only question has been whether Bachelet would win in the first round or in the second round, not whether or not she’d win. Adding to this, Matthei was a poor candidate whose nomination (‘imposed’ by the UDI on the RN and RN irritations at it all) hurt her, as might have her image as a very conservative and right-wing candidate (in a poll, 41% of respondents placed her in the most right-wing position on a left-right scale of 1-10, and she is one of the most unpopular politicians in Chile).

Turnout was likely very low with young voters, the most uninterested and dissatisfied with politics. In a CEP poll in September-October 2013 asking voters if they had voted in the 2012 municipal elections, 77% of voters aged 18 to 24 said they hadn’t voted (against 49% in the whole sample). In the past, these were the voters who were the least likely to bother registering to vote, because not voting once registered meant stiff fines.

The results were as follows:


Michelle Bachelet (Nueva Mayoría-PS) 46.69%
Evelyn Matthei (Alianza-UDI) 25.02%
Marco Enríquez-Ominami (Si tú quieres, Chile cambia-PRO) 10.98%
Franco Parisi (Ind) 10.11%
Marcel Claude (Todos a La Moneda-PH) 2.8%
Alfredo Sfeir (PEV) 2.35%
Roxana Miranda (Igualdad) 1.25%
Ricardo Israel (PRI) 0.57%
Tomás Jocelyn-Holt (Ind) 0.19%

Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados)

Nueva Mayoría 47.74% winning 67 seats (+10)
PDC 15.56% winning 22 seats (+2)
PS 11.13% winning 15 seats (+4)
PPD 11.02% winning 15 seats (-3)
PCCh 4.11% winning 6 seats (+3)
PRSD 3.64% winning 6 seats (+1)
Independents 2.18% winning 4 seats (+3)
MAS 0.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Alianza 36.17% winning 49 seats (-9)
UDI 18.92% winning 28 seats (-9)
RN 14.9% winning 19 seats (+1)
Independents 2.35% winning 1 seat (-2)
Si tú quieres, Chile cambia 5.44% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal 0.27% winning 1 seat (+1)
PRO 3.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 1.38% winning 0 seats (nc)
Humanist Party 3.36% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents outside coalitions 3.32% winning 3 seats (+1)
Nueva Constitución para Chile 2.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 1.18% winning 0 seats (nc)
Igualdad 1.08% winning 0 seats (nc)
PEV 0.53% winning 0 seats (nc)
PRI 1.16% winning 0 seats (-3)

Senate (Senado)

Nueva Mayoría 50.65% winning 12 seats (+1) – total 21 seats
PDC 16.52% winning 2 seats (-3) – total 6 seats
PS 16.15% winning 4 seats (nc) – total 6 seats
PPD 12.35% winning 3 seats (+2) – total 6 seats
MAS 3.47% winning 1 seat (nc) – total 1 seat
Independents 2.02% winning 2 seats (+2) – total 2 seats
PCCh 0.14% winning 0 seats (nc)
Alianza 37.99% winning 7 seats (-1) – total 16 seats
RN 16.24% winning 2 seats (-1) – total 8 seats
UDI 14.68% winning 5 seats (nc) – total 8 seats
Independents 7.08% winning 0 seats (nc)
Nueva Constitución para Chile 3.91% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 2.12% winning 0 seats (nc)
Igualdad 1.57% winning 0 seats (nc)
PEV 0.22% winning 0 seats (nc)
Humanist Party 3.47% winning 0 seats (nc)
Si tú quieres, Chile cambia 2.45% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents outside coalitions 1.52% winning 1 seat (nc)

An interactive Google Map of the results (presidential).

As it turned out, Michelle Bachelet will have to wait until December 15 and the second round to claim victory. In the first round, Bachelet won 46.7%, falling short of winning by the first round. She trounced her closest rival, right-wing candidate Evelyn Matthei, by 21.7% and will certainly go on to defeat her by a considerable margin in the second round next month.

As soon as Bachelet entered the race, the outcome was never in doubt. She crushed opposition in the Nueva Mayoría primaries in June, successfully expanded the old Concertación coalition to include some social movements and integrate the Communists (despite PDC misgivings) and the certainty of her victory was further reinforced when her strongest rival, Golborne, dropped out and when the very right-wing UDI dominated the primaries and the post-primary candidate replacement process.

Bachelet remains the most popular politician in Chile, although in large part that popularity is for her as a person, because the Concertación remains very unpopular (low 20s approvals) and a lot of the old party bosses in the Concertación are quite unpopular, both on the left and right. However, her favourable/positive ratings dropped from 85% in the summer of 2010, right after she left office, to 61% in the last CEP poll in September-October 2013. She still stood at a 75% favourability rating in November-December 2012. This drop, fairly significant, coincides with her return into active politics. As a former president working for the UN, she maintained stratospheric approvals; as she returned to active politics, she faced the normal criticisms, attacks and extra scrutiny from the media and rivals, meaning that her approval ratings naturally took a hit.

Bachelet ran a smart campaign, however. She knew that she was the runaway favourite, and she focused on keeping her high poll numbers up and staying clear of trouble. As in the primaries, Bachelet faced attacks from left, right and centre; she was often criticized for being vague in her proposals and not showing up to a debate. Some on the left dislike Bachelet, feeling that she isn’t progressive enough and that her proposals, on matters such as education and a new constitution, are either vague or the product of political opportunism. However, Bachelet remained above the fray and didn’t really engage in the mudslinging. Her alternative event on September 11 was very successful, and she mostly played a statesman card in the destabilizing political debate which unfolded around the commemoration of the 1973 coup.

On the other hand, Evelyn Matthei’s campaign faltered, almost from the start. The RN, as noted above, disliked the way in which she was ‘imposed’ by the UDI on them. The RN played little role in her campaign, largely focusing on the congressional elections. Likewise, Piñera – who might be eyeing a return in 2017-2018 – gave Matthei a halfhearted endorsement and has preferred to act as a statesman in the waning months of his term. Piñera, who is said to be fed up with the UDI, angered a lot of the far-right and pinochetista rightists (including a lot of the UDI) in September when he closed down the Cordillera luxury prison, where ten high-ranking military officers sentenced for human rights violations (including Contreras) are imprisoned. The Cordillera prison had comfortable amenities for its criminals: free time, TV, sports, internet and even weekend passes. In a country with overcrowded and run-down prisons, the opulence in which Chile’s famous criminals lived angered many people. But closing the prison angered its inmates (General Odlanier Mena, the former head of the CNI and Contreras’ nemesis, committed suicide in protest) and the small minority of unrepentant supporters of the former regime, who happen to make up a considerable share of the right-wing base.

Matthei was unable to gain ground during the campaign, after an already difficult start. She sustained damage from all parts in September and she was unable to regain lost support in October. Her platform attracted little interest. Matthei’s conservative stances on issues such as education, political reform or tax reform were out of touch with most Chilean voters, who have more left-wing views on those issues. In fact, the only area where Matthei and most voters might be in agreement is same-sex marriage, and that hardly featured as a top issue in this campaign.

She won only 25% of the vote, barely more than Arturo Alessandri Besa’s 24.4% in 1993 – keeping in mind that he was the last recourse after more prominent candidates pulled out and that the right abandoned his campaign (even took his funds) to focus on congressional elections. Ultimately, though, she did place second – something which was in doubt after some polls in the waning days of the campaign showed her collapsing and Parisi surging, with her lead over him down to single digits. She successfully rallied part of the right, likely the core electorate, around the flag. While her spat with Parisi, after she accused him and his brother of owing about $200,000 to employees in a private high school they owned (Parisi responded by attacking her husband’s business dealings), might not have helped her; it might have hurt Parisi as he was surging and threatening Matthei’s spot in the runoff.

Results by comuna of the presidential election (source: Saint Brendan’s Island blog)

Parisi in fact placed fourth, with only 10.1%. Marco Enríquez-Ominami won third place with 11% of the vote. MEO had won over 20% of the vote in 2009, so his result this year is far from spectacular. Placing third, however, is a good surprise for him. In 2009, MEO’s success owed to the unpopularity of the Concertación and its candidate (Frei); he successfully assembled a coalition of malcontents on the left. However, hurt by Chile’s electoral system and the two-coalition system it creates, he was unable to transform his personal success into political support for his new party, the PRO. In the 2012 municipal elections, the PRO-led coalition won only 4.5% and it has looked a lot like a personal project rather than a credible party. As his star had faded since 2009 and his party had failed to get off the ground, MEO was not a strong contender this year, although he remains a popular politicians with 45% favourability (CEP, Sep-Oct 2013). Furthermore, he was no longer alone in rallying anti-Concertación voters in this election – other candidates, left and centre/right, did the same. Nevertheless, MEO ran a relatively solid campaign which improved his image. Coming out in third, his result has improved public perception of his name/party.

For the second round, MEO has said that Bachelet has already won. For his part, MEO will cast a blank vote, marking his ballot ‘AC’. The AC refers to a popular campaign for a constituent assembly, called Marca Tu Voto (mark your vote), which called on voters in the first round – and now in the second round – to write ‘AC’ on their ballots. The Servel ruled, in the first round, that ballots which expressed a preference for a candidate and were marked AC would be valid, displeasing the right. The Marca Tu Voto campaign claimed that it won 8% of the vote based on its observers in precincts across Chile. Besides MEO, who proclaimed after the first round that his candidate was the constituent assembly, the campaign has received the backing of many politicians on the left/centre-left (including the Nueva Mayoría, which supports constitutional change but has not officially endorsed the idea of a constituent assembly), such as senator Guido Girardi (PPD), Camila Vallejo (PCCh) and student leaders/candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric.

Franco Parisi ended up doing poorly, placing only fourth with 10% of the vote. As noted above, his momentum in the last few weeks was likely halted by Matthei’s revelation of the scandal involving him and his brother. While he denied it and Matthei did not really gain from it, it bogged him down into an argument with her and likely hurt his credibility.

None of the five other candidates did well. Taking a very left-wing stance, Marcel Claude and Roxana Miranda won 4.05% of the vote between the two of them. They were never strong contenders and did not get much media attention; but Claude’s campaign failed to get off the ground and Miranda’s campaign was meant to attract attention to her cause/ideas (and attack the ‘establishment’) rather than win many votes. Claude failed to unite the anti-Concertación left like the Juntos Podemos Más coalition had done in 2005 and 2009 (5-6%). Alfredo Sfeir, the colourful green candidate, won 2.4%, a disappointing result given that the campaign had revealed him to be a reasonable gentleman (he did not attack his rivals).

Israel and Jocelyn-Holt, little known and ignored by the media (except for the latter’s bicycle accident), did very poorly. Jocelyn-Holt’s 0.2% is the worst result for a presidential candidate in Chilean history.

When Bachelet and Matthei meet in the second round, Bachelet will win easily. It would be surprising if Bachelet won by any less than ten points; she will likely win between 55% and 65% of the vote. Matthei will win some votes from Israel and Parisi, although a lot of the latter’s voters might prefer abstention. The other candidates were all centre-left or left-wing, and Bachelet should easily won their votes, at least the votes of those who bother showing up. The 2006 and 2010 runoffs were more disputed than the first rounds, but it won’t be the case this year. Bachelet will win easily, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that. Therefore, with even less incentives to turn out, we can except turnout to be even lower – perhaps much lower – in the second round.

Socioeconomic groups in the Greater Santiago, 2002 Census (source:

Chile has 346 comunas. Matthei won only 10 of them, five of which are in the Metropolitan Region of Santiago. In the Greater Santiago, Matthei predominated in the city’s affluent and leafy suburbs, old right-wing strongholds. In Vitacura, the wealthiest municipality in Chile whose municipal government funds a pro-Pinochet group, Matthei won 66.8% against 12.7% for Bachelet. In Lo Barnechea, which includes the nouveau rich suburb of La Dehesa, she won 63.7% against 16.9%. By far, these were Matthei’s two best towns in the country; in the Greater Santiago, she also topped the poll in the upper middle-class suburbs of Los Condes, La Reina and Providencia – with 58.8%, 36.6% and 41.7% respectively. Together, these five municipalities have the highest HDIs in Chile. Interestingly, Parisi did poorly in those places – his best performances came from lower-income and mixed/middle-class towns in the Greater Santiago; in contrast Sfeir did quite well in Santiago’s affluent suburbs, winning up to 9.6% in Providencia.

In the Greater Santiago’s poorer suburbs, however, Bachelet often won over 50% of the vote: 58.4% in Lo Espejo, 58.1% in La Pintana, 57.3% in San Ramón, 54.7% in Cerro Navia and 54.2% in Pedro Aguirre Cerda. These municipalities have much lower HDIs – for example, Lo Espejo ranks 226 out of 341 and near the bottom of the Metro Region, and they are largely made up of lower middle-classes, as defined by Chile’s socioeconomic classes (see also this document). Bachelet also won by comfortable margins in generally middle-class or socially mixed suburbs like Peñaloén (45.6%), La Florida (41.2%), Macul (41.4%) Maipú (39.6%), Quilicura (43.2%) or Santiago itself (35.4%, Matthei did well with 27.2% because it has some rather affluent areas too). Crucially, outside of Santiago proper, Matthei performed below her regional and national average in these towns; however, MEO did quite well, winning over 18% in Quilicura and Puento Alto (middle-class as well).

In the Valparaíso region, Bachelet won 44.5% against 25% for Matthei and 11.4% for Parisi. Matthei won one municipality, Zapallar (with 40.7%), an affluent tourist resort. She came close in other tourist resort towns which are quite well-off, such as Concón (33.3% vs 34.2%), Viña del Mar (32% vs 35%) and Algarrobo (37.4% vs 39.3%). In the major port city of Quintero, Bachelet took 46.4%. She also won 44.2% in Valparaíso itself.

In general, Bachelet – and Matthei, to a much lesser extent – did best in poorer rural areas; while the other candidates – MEO, Parisi – had their strength largely concentrated in cities, suburbs or large towns.

In regional terms, Matthei’s best region was Araucanía, an agricultural region with the largest indigenous (Mapuche) population (about 25% of the regional population) which is also the poorest region in the country. She won 29.3%, still miles behind Bachelet (49.6%). In the region, Matthei won Pucón, an adventure tourism town on a lake which has the highest HDI in the region (28th in the country), with 38.4% of the vote. She also performed well in remote mountainous area, with a mixed indigenous and white population, which has bred numerous conflicts with the Mapuche over forestry contracts (and the governments have used an anti-terrorism law to crack down on the Mapuche; Matthei supports the anti-terrorism law). The comunas with a Mapuche majority (in 2002), however, showed stronger support for the left.

Outside the traditionally conservative stronghold of Araucanía (it was the strongest region for the yes in 1988, with 54%), however, Matthei did poorly in ‘rural’ regions, while Bachelet often won over 50%. She won 55.7% in Coquimbo, a rural and agricultural region (with some mining), which is a traditional Concertación/PDC stronghold. Further south, Bachelet took 56.6% in Maule and 53% in O’Higgins (the full name is Región del Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins – quite wordy!), fairly poor regions where the Concertación has been strong in the past. Maule is a poor, rural, agricultural (wine in the Central Valley, subsistence farming in the Cordillera de la Costa); O’Higgins is similar, although the El Teniente mine in Machalí boosts the region’s affluence somewhat. Interestingly, the Concertación’s best results in the region usually come from the poorest agricultural villages in the coastal regions and parts of the Central Valley; Bachelet won ‘only’ 47.5% in Machalí, where both MEO and Parisi did well (over 10% of the vote).

Further north, Bachelet’s performance was patchy in the traditionally solidly left-wing mining regions of the Atacama. In the region of Atacama, Bachelet won 51.5%, doing well in mining communities such as Diego de Almagro (66.7%), Tierra Amarilla (59%) or Caldera (54.2%) but also in poorer communities with smaller mines and more agriculture/fishing. However, in Antofagasta, a major mining centre and old left-wing (miners) stronghold – it was the strongest anti-Pinochet region in 1988 (39.3% yes) – Bachelet won only 39.7%. This region is notable because Parisi, for some reason, placed second with 21.7% – Parisi also did well, in third, in neighboring Tarapacá (19.6%) and Atacama (13.3%); in Antofagasta, Parisi did best in the mining centre of Calama (24.3%) but also Antofagasta itself (21.9%). In Tarapacá, another important mining region, Bachelet took 36.6%; Matthei won two comunas here – Colchane and Camiña, two poor isolated Andean communities with a large indigenous majority.

Moving further south, Bachelet won 50.8% in the Biobío region, where her support was spread out fairly equally throughout the region (it was the case in many other regions as well). Biobío is a diversified region, with poorer rural communities (subistence farming and viticulture), a major industrial and mining area around the Gran Concepción and forestry. The industrial Gran Concepción has usually been a Concertación stronghold, and Bachelet did fairly well; but Parisihad some strong results in places like Talcahuano (23.4%) and Coronel (17.3%), two major industrial centres.

Bachelet also broke 50% in Los Ríos (53.5%), Los Lagos (53.3%), Aysén (51.7%) and Magallanes (50.9%). Except for the latter, which is a distinct regional subculture in itself – and one of Chile’s wealthiest regions outside of Santiago – these regions are poor, either rural or rugged and in many cases a lot of the communities are hard to access, especially in the winter months. Amusingly, Matthei won the comuna of Antártica, a geographically massive but demographically tiny comuna (46 votes cast) which covers Chilean claims in Antarctica, with the votes cast at Villa Las Esmeraldas, a permanent settlement populated largely by a mix of military, civilian defense/civil aviation personnel and rotations of scientists/academics. The military presence there, as well as in the Tierra del Fuego municipality of Cabo de Hornos (Puerto Williams) likely explains why they’re conservative strongholds. Matthei won 19 votes in Antarctica, or 42.2%; Bachelet placed fourth with only 5 votes and 11%. In Cabo de Hornos, Bachelet won 235 votes to 205 over Matthei.

Congressional results


Composition, by coalition, of the Cámara de Diputados (2014-2018)

The Nueva Mayoría made gains in both houses of Congress. In the Chamber of Deputies, it gained 10 seats from 2009, while the right lost 9 seats. Overall, the Nueva Mayoría will hold 56.7% of the seats, its largest majority in the Chamber since the 1997-2001 congressional term. In the Senate, where the larger sizes of the constituencies make it even more structurally conservative and resistant to change, the Nueva Mayoría scored a net gain of one seat, which will give them 21 out of 38 seats – or 55.3%.

The Nueva Mayoría ‘doubled’ (that is, won both seats in a district; often referred to in Chile as a doblaje) the right in 10 out of 60 districts, while the right doubled in only one district. In the Senate, the Nueva Mayoría ‘doubled’ the right in two out of 10 constituencies.

Much attention was paid to the congressional elections, which were often more interesting than the headline presidential contest. Fulfilling Bachelet’s ambitious reformist agenda will require large majorities in Congress. Indeed, one of the more criticized aspects of the 1980 constitutions is that some issues, require a larger majority than the regular 50%+1 majority. This is not only the case for constitutional changes, but also on issues such as education, the electoral system, local and regional government, mining or the armed forces. Unfortunately for the Nueva Mayoría, they fell short of a four-sevenths and three-fifths majority which would have allowed them to pass major reforms, including some constitutional reforms, without requiring support from independents and the right.

Passing a tax reform will be a cakewalk for Bachelet, given that taxation (and other issues, such as marriage) only require a traditional 50+1 majority, which would be easily attainable for the government unless there are internal divisions within the majority (for example, PDC opposition to liberalizing abortion laws). However, modifying the existing law on education (the Ley General de Educación) would require a ley orgánica constitucional (organic constitutional law) which need four-sevenths in both houses (69 deputies and 22 senators). Changing the current law on elections would also require such a majority.

Composition, by coalition, of the Senado (2014-2018)

Composition, by coalition, of the Senado (2014-2018)

Amending certain parts of the constitution requires a three-fifths majority (72 deputies, 23 senators). Given that the constitution currently freezes the number of seats in the Chamber to 120 (but the Senate’s size is no longer fixed) and that most proposals to reform the binomial system would increase the number of seats in the Chamber, most agree that changing the electoral system would, in practice, require a three-fifths rather than four-sevenths majority. However, certain chapters of the constitution – including Chapter I (institutional bases and founding principles), Chapter III (constitutional rights and duties), Chapter XI (armed forces) or Chapter XV (constitutional reform) – require an even larger super-majority of two-thirds in both houses (80 deputies, 26 senators). The constitution excludes any reform through the means of a constituent assembly, meaning that constitutional reforms may only be done within the limits set by the constitution itself.

Bachelet’s promise to adopt a new constitution is extremely vague, except that it sees Congress as the one with constituent power. Seemingly, the Nueva Mayoría is still considering its options and was waiting to see how the new Congress would be made up.

Today, a constitutional reform requiring a two-thirds majority will need to have support from at least part of the right. There is, however, a potential escape hatch for the government if it is committed to constitutional reform and it lacks congressional support to do so: in cases of disagreement between the President and both houses of Congress, the President may call a plebiscite on the text which Congress approved or insisted upon but which the President vetoed. This is the only matter on which the President may call a plebiscite, according to the constitution. The Constitutional Tribunal is charged with ruling on the constitutionality of plebiscites if called upon by either house of Congress.

Constitutional reform will certainly prove to be a daunting task for the new government: despite its commitment to a new constitution, it will find it tough to find a congressional super-majority to work with it on the issue and it will likely need to find a constitutional/legal way of writing a new constitution. The judiciary may involve itself in the process: the right may very well appeal any government decision with regards to changing the constitution to the Constitutional Tribunal or the Comptroller General of the Republic. In an interview, a constitutional lawyer in Bachelet’s constitutional team did not rule out recourse to the ‘original constituent power’ (the people) if their reformist/institutional solution fails. He argues that a “constituent Congress, a constituent assembly and a constituent referendum are all viable mechanisms”.

Composition, by party, of the Cámara de Diputados (2014-2018)

Composition, by party, of the Cámara de Diputados (2014-2018)

Within the Nueva Mayoría, the main winners were the Communists and Socialists. The Communists doubled their representation in the Chamber of Deputies, electing six of their nine candidates, including their three incumbent members. The Communists have been favourably inclined towards participating in broader coalitions with a left-leaning tint as a means of winning power/increasing their influence since the days of the Popular Front with Pedro Aguirre Cerda. They have certainly been far keener to work with the centrist/centre-left Concertación parties than their erstwhile colleagues in the extra-parliamentary left, be they the Humanists or some social movements. After having played it alone until 2009 and paying the price for it because of Pinochet’s binomial system, the Communists have made their peace with the idea of working with the Concertación parties and they have been reaping the rewards of that strategy since 2009. With 6 deputies, the Communists will play an even more important role within the coalition and will be pressuring Bachelet’s government to fulfill its platform promises. The Socialists increased or maintained their caucuses in both houses of Congress.

Although the PDC increased its caucus in the Chamber of Deputies from 19 to 22, the results were pretty sour for the Christian Democrats. Already left badly weakened by Claudio Orrego’s humiliating third place finish behind the independent Andrés Velasco in the primaries, and rattled by the ‘leftization’ of the coalition with the integration of an ever-stronger Communist Party; the PDC can barely hide its dismay, bewilderment or faint annoyance at the results. As I’ll explain below, the PDC lost one of their leading senators and the way in which some of the progressives in the Nueva Mayoría have been treating the PDC has annoyed and disturbed the PDC leadership, which is already not overly enthusiastic about Bachelet and her campaign team.

Finally, the old Concertación had historically been dominated by a PDC-PS axis – with the moderate PS leadership being close allies of the PDC in the power politics in the old Concertación (see the PS leadership’s endorsement of Frei in the 2009 primaries, which led MEO to leave the party), against a ‘progressive bloc’ of the PPD, PRSD and now the Communists. In the 2012 municipal elections and this year’s CORES election, the Concertación/Nueva Mayoría actually ran two lists: one made up of the PDC-PS axis, the other made up of the three progressive parties. However, the results of the congressional election, with the defeat of ‘pro-axis’ PS incumbents and their replacement by ‘progressive’ Socialists, has led many to declare the death of the PDC-PS axis.

On the right, the main loser was the UDI, which lost 9 seats in the lower house. Although the UDI remains both the largest party in Congress and the largest party in the Alliance, it came out badly scalped from the election while the RN escaped relatively unharmed. Furthermore, the UDI’s main leaders – who were either defeated or did not run because they were cabinet ministers (Joaquín Lavín) – now find themselves outside of Congress, while the RN’s up-and-coming figures are in Congress. With Matthei’s near-certain defeat, the RN appears to be on good footing to reclaim leadership of the right and perhaps lead the right on a more liberal course than than UDI’s traditionalist conservatism.

The Nueva Mayoría’s strategy seems to include a bid to ally with social movements to pressure the right into not blocking reforms, although this will likely be tough to do in practice given the natural hostility of social movements towards risks of being coopted by major parties or their hostility towards the government in general. PPD Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber also talked of exploiting the latent divisions within the right, by attracting centrist and liberal right-wingers from the RN.

Senators elected in 2013, by party

Senators elected in 2013, by party

Overall, the Alliance’s candidates won 36.2% of the vote, over 10 points better than Matthei did in the presidential race. Meanwhile, the Nueva Mayoría’s 47.7% in the congressional elections is less than 1% above Bachelet’s result in the presidential election. Those ‘third party’ presidential candidates like MEO who also stood candidates for Congress did much better than their congressional candidates, as is almost always the case. MEO’s coalition won 5.4% of the vote and won only one seat, which went to the small Liberal Party’s leader. Marcel Claude’s Humanist Party won 3.4%, not a bad result. The Nueva Constitución para Chile alliance, made up of Roxana Miranda’s Equality Party and Sfeir’s greens won only 2.8%. The PRI, which stood only 26 candidates and had two incumbents running, did very poorly with only 1.2%.

One of the most discussed outcomes of the congressional elections were the victories of four leaders of the student movement. The movement’s most famous icon (and something of an idol for the left and student movements elsewhere in the Americas and the world), Camila Vallejo (PCCh/JJCC), ran in district 26 (La Florida). Vallejo, who is 25, was the president of the FECh between November 2010 and November 2011, until she was narrowly defeated by Gabriel Boric in the student union elections in November 2011. She was handily elected with 43.77% of the votes on her name, against 24.15% for incumbent UDI deputy Gustavo Hasbún. In district 19 (Recoleta), Karol Cariola, the secretary-general of the Communist Youths (JJCC) and a close friend of Vallejo, won 38.47% of the vote, placing first with a comfortable lead over UDI incumbent Claudia Nogueira (24.84%).

In district 22 (Santiago), the Nueva Mayoría ran no candidates but backed Giorgio Jackson, the president of Student Federation of the Catholic University (FEUC) between 2010 and 2011 and a Confech spokesperson during the 2011 student protests, who ran as an independent (or actually backed by his unregistered party, Revolución Democrática). Jackson did not endorse any candidate in the first round, which annoyed the PS, but as expected he gave his support to Bachelet in the second round. With no opposition from the Nueva Mayoría, despite earlier talks that the PS and PDC were looking to run candidates against him, Jackson won very easily with 48.17% of the vote. On the right, an interesting race saw Felipe Kast, a former Minister of Planning (2010-2011) and leader of a new liberal movement (Evolución Política), defeat incumbent UDI deputy Mónica Zalaquett, the sister of the former UDI mayor of Santiago Pablo Zalaquett. Kast won 19.54% against 18.6% for Zalaquett, narrowly taking the second seat.

PCCh deputies-elect Karol Cariola and Camila Vallejo (source: The Clinic)

Vallejo and Cariola, who will certainly become the Communist Party’s two most emblematic deputies in the next Congress, represent a faction of the student movement which has accepted integration into the established political system and the old coalitions. By no means, however, is that attitude shared by most of their colleagues in the student movement: by and large, the student movement remains skeptical of the desirability to work within the institutions and the system to achieve change and even fewer of them are amenable to working with the old Concertación parties which they often criticized as much as the right. Most student leaders, including outgoing FECh president Andrés Fielbaum and his successor Melissa Supúlveda (an anarchist and libertarian socialist), have been critical of Bachelet’s program on education. A few days before the election, Supúlveda said that she wouldn’t vote for either Vallejo or Jackson, became “the possibilities of transformation are not in Congress”; she backed no presidential candidate (although some of her supporters backed Marcel Claude) and said that she would not vote altogether. This view is widely shared by many in the movement, some of whom even consider Vallejo to be a ‘traitor’ for integrating the political system (although that’s always been the Communists’ strategy) and many of whom who do not trust Bachelet and the major parties. 

Therefore, Vallejo and Cariola’s victories owe more to their personal and partisan strategies (that is, an alliance with the other parties in the Nueva Mayoría) than to any wave of support in their favour from the student movement. This is not to deny that they’re both popular star politicians who are the new public faces of the Communist Party or that their election owed a lot to their work on the ground (Cariola was victorious in one of the few congressional open primaries); but ultimately their victory was rendered possible by their alliance with the Nueva Mayoría and Bachelet rather than the result of student mobilization.

In this CNN Chile interview with Vallejo (in Spanish), she defends her party’s strategy and her own role therein and attempts to reconcile her participation in the student movement with her participation in the congressional majority of the new government. Expressing the traditional attitude of the Communist Party (indeed, she refers to the PCCh’s behaviour under Allende and Aguirre Cerda), Vallejo says that student demands can be addressed from within the system, but she also notes that they will have ‘a foot in Congress, a foot in the streets’ – to transform the institution and fulfill the demands of the movement.

She kind of avoided giving a strong answer on the question of how she would deal with the inevitable compromises and horse-trading which is central to law-making in Chile (she wants to bring in social movements in the process, notably on education reform). Vallejo, Cariola and other student leaders in Congress are placed in a delicate position, that of dealing with compromise, watered-down legislation and unfulfilled grandiose election promises. Will they become part of “the system” – turning into the kind of acclimated parliamentarians which other student leaders revile – or will they be able to stick to their ideals, even if it is at the cost of breaking with the coalition to which they owe their victories?

One of those who did not trust the major parties was Gabriel Boric, the president of the FECh (2011-2012) and leader of the Izquierda Autónoma movement (a Marxist/Gramscian party which argues in favour of autonomy from established left-leaning parties), who ran in district 6o (Magallanes/Punta Arenas) – facing full slates of candidates from both the Nueva Mayoría and the Alliance. Boric, who defeated Vallejo in the FECh elections in 2011 largely by criticizing her ties to the national Communist Party, did not endorse Bachelet in either the first round or in the second round, although he says that he’s open to dialogue. Boric won 26.2%, placing first of all candidates and second behind the Nueva Mayoría’s slate (32.07%) but ahead of the Alliance’s slate (22.24%). Izquierda Autónoma candidates in two other districts won 6.6% and 10.8% respectively.

In district 21 (Providencia), Maya Fernández (PS), the granddaughter of Salvador Allende (her mother was Beatriz Allende, one of Allende’s three daughters, who committed suicide in Cuba in 1977), won the most votes with 31.31% against 28.55% for incumbent deputy Marcela Sabat (RN), the daughter of the RN mayor of Ñuñoa. However, another political offspring, José Labbé (UDI), the son of the controversial former pinochetista mayor of Providencia Cristián Labbé lost, winning 13.6%.

In district 1 (Arica), Vlado Mirosevic, the leader of the Liberal Party, was able to win a seat. He won 21.25%, which when combined with the 3.17% for the other candidate on MEO’s coalition’s list (24.4%) was barely more than the votes cast for the Alliance’s candidates (24%). The incumbent PPD deputy lost reelection narrowly to the other Nueva Mayoría, former regional intendant Luis Rocafull (PS) – 21.6% to 22.4%.

In district 6 (Vallenar, Atacama region), former education minister Yasna Provoste (PDC), famous for having been impeached by Congress during Bachelet’s presidency, made her return to politics, winning 43.86% of the vote. Along with the 13.28% for three-term deputy Alberto Robles (PRSD), this allowed the Nueva Mayoría to ‘double’ the Alliance (20.6%) and MEO’s coalition (22.2%). Again, the binomial system was at work here – MEO’s candidate, former deputy Jaime Mulet (ex-PDC, ex-PRI) actually won 19.34%, more than Robles but the Nueva Mayoría coalition obtained more than twice the votes cast for him and his list colleague. The Nueva Mayoría also easily ‘doubled’ in the other district of Atacama region (district 5).

In district 8 (Coquimbo), the Nueva Mayoría ‘doubled’ – with 38.51% for incumbent PDC deputy Matías Walker, the brother of two PDC senators (one of whom is the president of the party) and 13.36% for Daniel Núñez (PCCh). Núñez actually placed fourth of all candidates, being outpolled by the UDI candidate (19.1%) and incumbent PRI deputy Pedro Velásquez (16.3%). Velásquez, the former second vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies, had attracted media interest when he was elected to that office in April 2013 with the right’s support, despite the fact that he owed over 200 million pesos to the municipality of Coquimbo, which he governed before being suspended in 2006 and later sentenced for tax fraud.

Dynastic politics and sons-of are important in Chilean politics, as you might have noticed by now. In district 20 (Maipú), Joaquín Lavín León (UDI), the son of Joaquín Lavín was elected, placing second with 23.6%. Ignacia Golborne, the daughter of Laurence Golborne, was defeated in district 28 (San Miguel), winning only 13.7%. The seats went to the RN incumbent and Guillermo Teillier, the leader of the Communist Party.

We got another example of the horrors of the binominal system this year in district 30 (San Bernardo). Marisela Santibáñez (PRO), a former actress and TV host, won the most votes of all candidates – 26.75% – but failed to get elected because the total votes for the PRO (29%) were smaller than that of the Nueva Mayoría (34.5%) and the right (30.5%).

Alejandra Sepúlveda, a three-term incumbent (ex-PDC, ex-PRI) was reelected as an independent in district 34 (San Fernando), winning 41.9% against 26.5% for the UDI incumbent.

In district 59 (Aysén), Iván Fuentes (ind. PDC), a fisherman and leader of the 2012 protests in the region was elected with 25.4% of the votes on his name. René Alinco (PRI), a two-term incumbent, lost, placing fifth with 8%.

The senatorial contests in metro Santiago’s two constituencies were both closely contested with big name candidates on both sides; and their outcomes fairly significant. In constituency 7 (Santiago West), incumbent PPD senator Guido Girardi was reelected easily with 30.3% of the vote. Girardi, who has been in Congress since 1990 and in the Senate since 2006, is a leading figure of the ‘progressive bloc’ within the old Concertación (for example, he is a supporter of the Marca Tu Voto campaign, alongside the likes of Camila Vallejo), but he’s also a bit of a tainted figure because of his involvement in a number of corruption scandals (fake bills, using congressional funds for his electoral campaign, pushing and bribing a minor to offer false testimony in a pedophilia case involving UDI congressmen etc…). On the right, Andrés Allamand (RN), unsuccessful presidential contender and former Minister of Defense, won the second seat with 20.2% against 17.9% for Pablo Zalaquett (UDI), the former mayor of La Florida (2000-2008) and Santiago (2008-2012, defeated in 2012). Alberto Undurraga, the former PDC mayor of Maipú, placed third with 18.7%.

Even more interesting was constituency 8 (Santiago East). On the right, former cabinet minister and disgraced presidential candidate Laurence Golborne, once the rising star of the right, was defeated, winning 22.7% against 24.4% for Manuel José Ossandón (RN), the former mayor Puente Alto and a prominent leader of the RN’s liberal (and anti-UDI) wing. Within the Nueva Mayoría, the most painful result for the PDC on election night was certainly the shocking loss of Soledad Alvear, an incumbent senator and former justice and foreign minister. Alvear, one of the PDC’s leading figures – her husband is a former congressman and a member of the PDC’s national council, won 20.3%, narrowly losing to Carlos Montes (PS), a six-term deputy. The defeat is made all the more painful because Carlos Montes is a leading figure of the PS’ progressive wing and an opponent of the PDC-PS ‘axis’ which has historically carried the day in the Concertación. For example, Vallejo welcomed Montes’ victory as a sign of the gains made by leftists within the coalition at the expense of the more conservative sectors. Alvear’s husband came out saying that there had been ‘favoritism’ by Bachelet for Montes, which prompted an unceremonious rebuke from Montes himself and further aggravated tensions within the PDC and with the PDC’s more leftist coalition partners. The Bachelet campaign and the PS leadership (PS leader Osvaldo Andrade is a supporter of the axis) quickly intervened to temper some of the PDC-critical comments made by some on the left.

This result especially has heightened the malaise within the PDC over its place in the Nueva Mayoría, which is fairly perceived to be as more left-leaning than the old Concertación was (some in the PDC are also angry at the Bachelet campaign for not helping them out more). The PDC fears that it has lost its predominance of the coalition, and the rise of the Communists as a strong congressional force and a potential cabinet partner hasn’t helped things out. It is no secret that relations between the PDC and PCCh aren’t rosy, although both parties try to downplay it. Communists such Vallejo publicly lament the open opposition of some PDC conservatives to platform promises such as abortion and gay marriage. The PDC is desperately figuring out what its voice should be in the future government. As Vallejo pointed out, there is also diversity (= divisions?) within the PDC, with some major leaders such as Jorge Pizarro, the president of the Senate, being far more pro-Bachelet/pro-Nueva Mayoría than Alvear and others.

The PDC isn’t close to shutting the door on its longtime allies, because there remains little chance and viable hopes for a viable centrist/Christian Democratic coalition equidistant between a progressive PS-PPD-PCCh-PRSD alliance and an RN-UDI alliance, and because the PDC is still probably unwilling to join forces with the RN if the RN was to abandon the UDI. However, if the binomial system is scrapped in favour of a real PR system which would allow for a multi-coalition party system, then there is a stronger chance that the PDC could go alone, perhaps alongside some of the more liberal and centrist RN members, perhaps with Piñera.

In constituency 12 (Biobío coastal), the defeat of incumbent senator (and former President of the Senate) Camilo Escalona (PS) came as more bad news for the PDC, which had had a good relation with him. Escalona, who had been elected senator in the region of Los Lagos in 2005, refused to run in the PS primaries in Los Lagos, leading the PDC to offer him a spot in Biobío’s coastal districts, which he had previously represented in the Chamber. However, he went up against incumbent senator Alejandro Navarro (MAS, ex-PS) and the former regional intendant and former UDI mayor of Concepción Jacqueline van Rysselberghe. Escalona won only 17.8%, against 33.9% for Navarro and 27.8% for van Rysselberghe (who expressed regret at Escalona’s defeat). Her brother, Enrique, was elected deputy in district 44. In constituency 13 (Biobío cordillera), another longtime politician, two-term senator Hosaín Sabag (PDC, also deputy in 1973 and 1990-1998) was defeated by PPD deputy Felipe Harboe, 16.5% to 37.8%. His son, however, was elected deputy in district 42.

In constituency 16 (Los Ríos), Alfonso de Urresti, an incumbent PS deputy and regionalist progressive, was handily elected with 46.9%. The former spokesperson of the government, Ena von Baer (UDI), placed second with 22.8%. In constituency 17 (Los Lagos), the former PS mayor of Puerto Montt, Rabindranath Quinteros, another regionalist progressive, was elected with a similar result -47.5%. On the right, incumbent UDI deputy Iván Moreira (who represented Greater Santiago) – a controversial pinochetista – was elected ahead of RN senator Carlos Kuschel, 19.1% to 14.9%.

In constituency 19 (Magallanes), independent senator Carlos Bianchi – a ‘true’ independent who has never been member of a political party – won reelection with 27.4%, placing ahead of the combined sum of the Alliance’s slate (23.7%), led by incumbent deputy Miodrag Marinovic (19.6%). However, it was two-term deputy Carolina Goic (PDC) who won the most votes, with 38.2% – defeating incumbent PS senator Pedro Muñoz, who won only 9%. Bianchi is seen as a decisive vote in the Senate on those matters where the Nueva Mayoría will need a four-sevenths majority (22 votes, they have 21), and he has a reputation as a swingy independent vote.

The second round of the presidential election, on December 15, holds no suspense: Bachelet will win easily and turnout will be low. The only thing which will be worth following in the election results is the size of Bachelet’s margin, and any indicators as to the behaviour of those who voted for neither her or Matthei in the first round.

Thank you for reading all or parts of this substantial and lengthy guide to Chilean politics.

Next (with much shorter posts!): Honduras, Nepal and Canadian federal by-elections. In whatever order.



Quebec (municipal) 2013

Map of Quebec (source: Atlas of Canada, Natural Resources Canada)

Municipal elections were held in the province of Quebec (Canada) on November 3, 2013.

The mayors and municipal councils of 1,111 local municipalities, directly elected for four year terms, were up for reelection. The mayor is directly and separately elected by FPTP, while municipal councillors (a minimum of 6 per municipality) are either elected in single-member wards/districts (in municipalities with a population over 20,000, electing at least 8 councillors) or at-large by the entire municipality (in such cases, the seats are numbered and candidates may only stand for one seat), again by FPTP. Some municipalities, such as Montreal, elected other offices (borough mayors, borough council etc) while 13 Regional County Municipalities (see below) directly elected their prefects.

Canadian local politics stand out from local politics in the United States or most European countries because of the absence of national or state/provincial political parties. Rather, local politics are either non-partisan or feature a number of municipal political parties (in the larger towns). In Quebec, unlike in Ontario, most large cities have municipal parties (often alongside independent candidates). However, these municipal parties are oftentimes little more than empty personal vehicles for a leading mayoral candidate or other local politician, and they come and go with their leaders. Furthermore, while ideology and federal/provincial partisan ties do play a role in Quebec local politics, they are not central to local politics – candidate quality and personality, personal ties, local issues and parochialism play larger roles.

Why care about all this? These elections were made all the more interesting and important by the recent developments in Quebec local politics with regards to high-level political corruption and collusion in the administration of major cities in Quebec. This blog post explains in thorough detail all the background to these elections and the corruption in Quebec local politics.

Municipal government

Quebec is divided into 1,111 local municipalities (municipalités locales) in addition to Indian reserves, northern (Inuit) villages, Cree and Naskapi villages/lands and unorganized territories administered by a supralocal body. Of these 1,111 local municipalities (map and list), 637 are designated as municipalities (municipalités), 223 as towns (villes), 161 as parishes (paroisses), 44 as villages, 44 as townships (cantons) and two as united cantons (cantons unis). These designations do not impact their powers, although the towns (and four municipalities and one village) are governed under the Law on Cities and Towns while the rest are governed under the Municipal Code.

Municipal governments are solely responsible for fire protection, water and water treatment and waste management. They share responsibility with the provincial government over housing, roads (the local level being responsible for streets and local roads), public transportation, policing, recreation and culture, parks and green spaces and land use/spatial planning policies.

Local government in Quebec also includes supralocal structures which share some powers with or have been delegated powers from municipalities. There are eleven agglomerations (agglomérations) grouping 41 municipalities, which have a council made up of delegates from the municipalities. Their powers may include real estate appraisal, policing, fire protection, public transit, water management, waste management, tourism and economic development. Most municipalities (1,067 municipalities and 94 territories) are covered by 87 Regional County Municipalities (Municipalités régionales de comtés, MRC) which have a council made up of the municipalities’ mayors and led by a prefect who is, in thirteen cases, elected directly by voters. The MRC has powers over land use, planning for waste management and fire protection, preparation of evaluation rolls, creation and funding of local development centres. There are fourteen structures holding powers of an MRC: four agglomerations and nine cities. The Greater Montreal and Greater Quebec City areas also form metropolitan communities, with a council responsible for planning and coordination on select issues.

Eight municipalities, including Montreal and Quebec City, are further subdivided into boroughs (arrondissements) aiming to provide localized services to citizens including (in Montreal) fire protection, parks and recreation, maintaining local roads, land use and waste management.

In Canada, like in other federal states, municipal governments are the creation of the provincial governments and while they have administrative autonomy, they are limited by provincial legislation and regulation in their behaviour. Municipal by-laws must be cleared by the provincial government, and the organization of municipalities (their powers, their structure and their boundaries) are determined by the provincial government.

For example, in 2002, the provincial Parti Québécois (PQ) government proceeded to the forced amalgamation of a large number of municipalities – most significantly, merging all municipalities on the island of Montreal into a single city and amalgamating the suburban municipalities of Quebec City, Gatineau, Lévis, Longueuil or Saguenay into a single city. The government was following in the footsteps of major municipal amalgamations in Ontario in the 90s. A number of former municipalities opposed these amalgamations. After 2003, a new provincial Liberal government carried out its promise of holding referendums on municipal de-amalgamations in those former municipalities where 10% of residents signed a petition asking for such a vote. 89 referendums were held in June 2004, resulting in the successful re-creation of 32 former municipalities in January 2006.

Background: Corruption and collusion in Quebec municipal politics

Municipal politics in Quebec have been shaken up in the past year by the Charbonneau Commission on the awarding and management of public construction contracts (at the municipal and provincial level), which has revealed deep and ingrained corruption in municipal politics – notably in Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities respectively. As a result of revelations and allegations, a number of mayors (including the mayors of Montreal and Laval) were forced to resign.

Corruption allegations had been swirling around the world of municipal politics, especially in Montreal, since 2009 with concerns over the high prices charged for construction contracts, rumours of illegal party financing by entrepreneurs and collusion between municipal politicians and shady entrepreneurs. Right before the 2009 elections, Benoit Labonté, the former leader of the main municipal opposition party in Montreal, was forced to admit his links with corrupt developer Tony Accurso from whom he had allegedly solicited and received money. In an interview which shook the political milieu, Labonté said that illegal financing of municipal and provincial parties was the norm and that a cartel in cahoots with the mafia ruled public works contracts in Montreal.

In late September and early October 2012, Lino Zambito, a former construction contractor, testified before the commission and spilled the beans about an organized system of collusion in the construction industry which controlled access to public construction contracts, and the role played by engineering firms and the mafia in the illegal financing of political parties/candidates at the municipal level.

Zambito claimed that his (bankrupt) construction company was one of ten companies in Montreal (all or most of which were formed by natives of the Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea) which formed a cartel controlling and dividing (amongst themselves) public contracts in Montreal. The cost of contracts were inflated by up to 25-30%, and the cartel – in tandem with the mafia – used intimidation to prevent other construction firms from bidding for or obtaining a contract from city hall. It was clear that the tendering process for public works contracts was rigged in favour of the cartel, and those companies which tried to ‘enter’ the closed world were unceremoniously told off by the cartel’s members – or their allies in the mafia.

In return for membership in this cartel, Zambito said that he needed to pay 2.5% of the contracts’ values to Nicolo Milioto, a middleman who gave the funds to the Rizzuto mafia clan (the Sicilian-led clan which controlled the Montreal underworld from the 1980s to 2006-2007). Video footage from a social club run by the Rizzuto family showed Zambito and other contractors handing over money, in cash, to Milioto.

In Montreal, unlike at the provincial level or in suburban municipalities, engineers employed by the city were responsible for designing plans, specifications and tenders for contracts and, later, for supervising the work. Zambito claimed that several engineers employed by the city were involved in this close cartel, being corrupted by developers (through bribes, hockey tickets, paid trips to Mexico, dinners etc) to approve fake cost overruns (faux extras) which further inflated costs. Zambito revealed that he paid 1% of the value of his contracts to Gilles Suprenant, a city engineer responsible for designing projects.

Other municipal employees also received their ‘share’ of money from contracts. He later claimed that two high ranking members in Tremblay’s administration – the former director general of the city of Montreal and the former president of the executive council, Frank Zampino – intervened in the awarding of contracts for personal gain or to favour certain firms. Elio Pagliarulo, a businessman who was once business partner with Paolo Catania, the boss of a major construction firm (with ties to the mafia), claimed that Zampino – Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay’s erstwhile right-hand man (and perhaps éminence grise) – had received $550,000 in bribes from Catania during the construction-ridden Faubourg Contrecoeur housing project. Zampino had intervened to ensure that Catania would receive the contract for the Faubourg Contrecoeur project.

Surprenant, in his own testimony, admitted that he collaborated with the cartel to inflate contract costs and received $700,000 in bribes. He also admitted to having played golf with Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Sicilian mafia, at the invitation of Tony Conte, a construction contractor. Luc Leclerc him to admitted to having received bribes, totaling $500,000. Both men said that they were able to partake in the cartel’s games through the ‘tactic complicity’ of site supervisors and their superiors. These men denied these allegations.

Beginning in 2005-2006, Zambito claimed that he also paid out 3% to Union Montréal (UM), the municipal party of then-mayor Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012). Other entrepreneurs confirmed these claims, and said that it was understood that payment of these ‘contributions’ to the mayoral party was the sine qua non to participate in the construction industry in Montreal.

Zambito also commented on the system in place in Laval and Montreal’s North Shore suburbs. Concerning Laval, Zambito claimed that a similar sum of 2.5% of the contracts’ value was to be paid to mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. A similar closed cartel of entrepreneurs ruled supreme in Laval when it came to awarding contracts; furthermore, the mayor was quite aware of this state of things – Zambito said that Vaillancourt had told him that ‘his turn’ would come and that he would get ‘his job’ soon. In November, an anonymous contractor claimed that he paid $15,000 a year to Vaillancourt, twice directly to the mayor himself. Vaillancourt was forced to resign one day later. A police raid later found $110,000 in the mayor’s safety deposit boxes.

On the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, private engineering firms were in charge of preparing plans, tenders and subsequently supervising works. Zambito talked of a complex system of collusion and corruption where engineering and law firms associated to ‘find’ potential mayoral candidates, run and finance their campaigns using cost overruns paid out by cities to construction contractors. Construction firms which wanted to obtain contracts in these municipalities needed to have connections to private engineering firms which had ties to the municipal councils, and partake in the financing of candidates and parties. These existence of these so-called ‘élections clés en main’ were confirmed by other witnesses.

Zambito’s shocking testimony was followed, in late October 2012, by the bizarre (and somewhat discredited) testimony of Martin Dumont, a former political organizer for UM and aide to mayor Tremblay. Dumont claimed that Milioto threatened his life in 2007 when he questioned the nature of the inflated costs. His most shocking claims, however, was that Tremblay himself had closed his eyes on an unofficial, parallel campaign budget funded with dirty money during a 2004 by-election campaign. Dumont had been told that there were two campaign budgets: an official budget, and a much larger unofficial budget fed with illegal money. His second extraordinary revelation was that he had seen Bernard Trépanier, UM’s financing guru, unable to close a safe stuffed with cash. Dumont also claimed that, during a fundraising event for UM, he received a brown enveloppe with $10,000 in cash from Milioto – in the bathroom! The veracity of Dumont’s testimony was later called into question when he was cross-investigated and information about the conditions in which he lost his job at city hall (and stories involving him looking at porn on his work computer).

In late November, Érick Roy, an investigator for the commission, exposed the results of his research into the clients of the ‘357c’ private club in Montreal. Lists of clients and guests at the private club between 2005 and 2012 showed that several high-ranking municipal and provincial politicians and businessmen had been invited to exclusive events or dinners at the club. Two former cabinet minister in then-Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government were found to have met entrepreneurs tied to the cartels, having been invited by Frank and Paolo Catania, whose company is linked to the Rizzuto mafia clan. Other municipal politicians including Frank Zampino, Tremblay’s former chief of staff Martial Fillion, Bernard Trépanier or other city councillors and borough mayors were among the guests. The private club apparently served as a meeting place for politicians, city employees, construction contractors and engineering firms.

In January 2013, Michel Lalonde, the president of an engineering firm, confirmed the deep entrenchment of corruption and collusion in Montreal and the North Shore suburbs. Lalonde said that, in 2004, Trépanier had sought $100,000 or $200,000 in contributions from engineering firms to finance the 2005 electoral campaign. The 2009 campaign, instead, was financed by the aforementioned 3% ‘contribution’ by contractors from the cost of the contracts. Lalonde said that engineering firms made these payments thanks to the faux extras which were granted to the construction contractors – who paid a sum, in cash, equivalent to 20-25% of these faux extras to engineering firms. Clearly, obtaining contracts and jobs in Montreal was conditioned to generous illegal contributions to the ruling party. Successive witnesses confirmed this state of fact, most of them naming Trépanier as the guy behind the whole scheme.

Construction contractors contributed generously to all provincial and municipal parties. To circumvent the electoral law, a number of firms have made (illegal) use of ‘figureheads’ – employees who contribute financially to political parties, and are reimbursed by their employer. At the municipal level in Montreal, both UM and the main opposition party, Vision Montréal (VM), received illegal campaign contributions of this type. Provincially, developers (and their ‘figurehead’ employees) gave to both the Liberals and the PQ (and the former ADQ in lesser amounts).

In a bizarre and outlandish testimony (March 2013) filled with holes, Trépanier admitted that he knew of and participated in a system of collusion; he was informed of the results of tenders in advanced and used this information to solicit contributions from the firms which had been awarded the contract. Trépanier, however, had trouble explaining the the origin of some $900,000 he or his company (‘Bermax’) received from engineering-construction firm Dessau between 2002 and 2010, allegedly in return for lobbying work Trépanier had done to allow Dessau to obtain contracts from Montreal airports. The commission, through phone records, proved Trépanier’s strong personal ties with Zampino and major construction contractors including Paolo Catania and Tony Accurso (whose yacht hosted numerous politicians).

Trépanier worked as UM’s chief financier between 2004 and 2006, when he was fired by mayor Tremblay, but other witnesses all confirmed that Trépanier continued his activities for UM until 2009 in full sight of all, the mayor included.

Appearing before the commission in mid-April, Frank Zampino categorically denied all accusations against him and said that he had been unaware of collusion. However, the commission was able to prove Zampino’s close ties to contractors such as Catania and Accurso – having been on trips with both of them, often paid by the contractors themselves, while contracts were being awarded. Zampino, the commission also showed, had attended the marriage of Frank Cotroni’s son with the daughter of another notorious mafia lord. Frank Cotroni’s brother, Vic Cotroni, had been one of the godfathers of the Calabrian mafia in Montreal, dominant in the 1970s until the Sicilians took over.

In May 2013, after the shocking arrest of the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, the commission shifted attention to Laval. Witnesses confirmed the existence of a large system of collusion in the suburban city. The city decided who would be awarded contracts before the period for bidding was over. In return, the lucky contractor would ‘pay back’ with cash contributions to the mayor’s party, the PRO des Lavallois. Once again, contributing to the mayoral party was necessary for any contractor wishing to do business in Laval.

A construction engineer collected, between 2003 and 2009, the equivalent of 2% of each contract’s value and gave the money to the PRO – over the years, he collected $2.7 million. Unlike in Montreal, where it may appear that the mayor was not directly involved in the dirty financing of his party, Vaillancourt was at the centre of the whole scheme in Laval – which he coordinated himself.

In June 2013, Jean Bertrand, the official agent for the PRO between 1984 and 2013, declared before the commission that the quasi-entirety of PRO municipal councillors had served as ‘figureheads’ for engineering consulting firms which were contributing to the party. Bertrand said that he gave the illegal money he received to the municipal councillors, who provided him with an official cheque in return. Therefore, municipal councillors participated in money laundering – and also claimed their tax credits for their ‘clean official’ donation. Bertrand said that he told the councillors that the money was illegal, an allegation denied by the councillors later called to testify (although they confirmed Bertrand’s other revelations).

The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal high-level corruption in municipal politics, provincial politics and major trade unions.

Political fallout

Many of the witnesses’ allegations directly mentioned high-ranking municipal (and provincial) politicians and political parties.

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, in office since 2001, was not cited in name by many witnesses – the real power in city hall and at UM, it appears, laid with Frank Zampino (mayor of Saint-Léonard from 1990 to 2008, president of the executive council until 2008) and Bernard Trépanier (for the financial aspects). However, what is unclear is to what extent Tremblay was aware of the corruption which surrounded him and what he did (if anything) to address that issue. Tremblay, to the point of ridicule, has constantly denied all accusations and insisted that he was not informed of the situation.

However, several witnesses and investigators confirmed that city hall had been aware of collusion and corruption – perhaps as early as 1997 (it is clear that corruption predated Tremblay’s election). Two reports drafted by city hall employees in 2004 and 2006 attempted to draw attention to the situation, but it appears that Zampino and his allies successfully covered up these reports and shut down any attempts to change the system. The 2004 report had found that, for the same type of works, the city of Montreal was paying 35-50% more than other cities in the province. The 2006 report showed that four construction groups had obtained 56% of public contracts in 2006 and that 96% of the contracts were awarded to local firms.

Tremblay’s defense that he was unaware of the corrupt games at city hall found itself shot to pieces when Martin Dumont, the former UM organizer, alleged that Tremblay was in the room when illegal money was being discussed (to which he closed his eyes). That day, Tremblay announced that he was taking a few days off. When he returned on November 5, he announced his resignation as mayor. However, in his speech, he posed as the wronged victim and the lone foot-soldier in the fight against corruption.

While Tremblay was probably not personally corrupt, it is likely that he was aware of the corruption and deliberately decided that he did not want to know (rather than not knowing altogether, as he claims). If indeed he did not know anything, wouldn’t that by extension mean that the city was governed by a gullible fool?

UM began collapsing in mid to late October 2012, when councillors started leaving the party to sit as independents – first a small trickle, quickly transformed into an avalanche after the Dumont allegations and Tremblay’s resignation. UM quickly lost its majority on city council.

On November 9, Michael Applebaum, the president of the executive council and borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, resigned from the presidency of the executive council – infuriated that UM was, he said, trying to cover up the 2004 report. Applebaum was passed over by the UM’s caucus in an internal vote to nominate the collapsing party’s candidate for interim mayor, which would be elected by city hall. He left UM to stand as an independent, arguing that the city needed an independent interim mayor who would not run in 2013 and promised to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ with independent councillors and the three parties. On November 16, Applebaum narrowly defeated UM candidate Richard Deschamps (the UM nominee) by 31 votes to 29. He became Montreal’s first Jewish mayor and the first Anglophone mayor since 1912 (an anonymous Deschamps supporter had previously said that Applebaum’s French skills were not good enough).

Applebaum presented himself as some kind of anti-corruption outsider who would fix the city, despite having been at the core of municipal politics as borough mayor since 2002 and president of the executive council since 2011. As it turns out, Applebaum’s image was an act. He was arrested by the anti-corruption unit UPAC on June 17, 2013 and charged on 14 counts, including fraud, breach of trust and corruption. Having spent a day in detention, the “anti-corruption” mayor resigned the next day. Court documents released last month show that Applebaum is suspected of having been a key player in a real estate and zoning-linked system of corruption in his borough. The UPAC believes that Applebaum asked real estate developers for cash in return for zoning changing.

He was replaced by Laurent Blanchard, the president of the executive committee under Applebaum and a former member of the opposition party, VM.

Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the strongman of Laval politics and incumbent mayor since 1989, saw his unshakable hegemony collapse in a matter of days with the Charbonneau Commission. Vaillancourt had previously been accused of corruption, most notably in 2010 when Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard claimed that the mayor had offered him $10,000 in cash in 1993, when Ménard first ran for office for the PQ. A provincial Liberal MNA also claimed to have been offered cash by Vaillancourt. But none of those cases really stuck to him. In October 2012, the UPAC searched the mayor’s house, city hall and other administrative buildings. The next day, police searched a condo which belonged to his family. During this raid, it was later revealed, Vaillancourt’s cousin threw stacks of banknotes into the toilet (but the new polymer notes floated and blocked the toilet).

Vaillancourt was forced to resign on November 9, but he too claimed he was innocent and attempted to draw attention to his record as mayor of the city, the third most populous in Quebec. He was replaced by Alexandre Duplessis, a PRO councillor.

On May 9, 2013, Vaillancourt was arrested by the UPAC following a massive raid which led to the arrest of the former mayor, the former city manager and 35 other people including Tony Accurso (arrested thrice in 2013 alone). They were charged on various counts including fraud, breach of trust, corruption, conspiracy and – most importantly – the rare charge of ‘gangsterism’. Vaillancourt and others were released on bail the next day.

Laval’s interim mayor Duplessis saw his office searched by UPAC and police in December 2012. In June 2013, he was hit by Bertrand’s accusations that, as city councillor, he partook in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO; in addition to allegations that he had solicited prostitutes (after he himself filed a complaint claiming that two women, including a prostitute, had attempted to extort money from him). He resigned on June 28. Martine Beaugrand, a former PRO councillor (the party dissolved on November 19, 2012) who had been one of two councillor not alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal, replaced him. The city was placed under trusteeship by the provincial government.

The mayor of the North Shore suburban municipality of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, was targetted by an arrest warrant in April 2012 while vacationing in Cuba; he was alleged to have vacationed on Tony Accurso’s yacht in exchange for giving Accurso’s companies favourable business dealings with the city and local water treatment agencies. Arrested upon his return to Canada, he was charged with corruption, fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. He did not resign until November 30, 2012. Altough Marcotte said his resignation was due to family issues, many felt it was linked to a new bill introduced by the PQ provincial government which allows court to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms. Marcotte had previously criticized the law.


Montreal, Quebec’s largest city (and Canada’s second largest city), is a diverse metropolis: a mix of rich and poor; Anglophone, Francophone and allophone; urban and suburban.

Montreal City Council is composed of 64 councillors and the mayor (a fairly large body for a local council in Canada). The makeup of the city council is rather confusing to understand at first. 18 of 19 boroughs (arrondissements) have a directly elected mayor who sits on the city council and their borough council; the downtown borough of Ville-Marie has no directly elected mayor, rather the mayor of Montreal is ex officio borough mayor. All but two of the 19 boroughs (Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève) additionally elect one or more city councillors in single-member districts (Anjou and Lachine elect only one, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce elects the most, 5). The borough mayors of Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève serve as members of the city council. Some borough councils have additional members (city councillors and the borough mayor already serve on borough councils as well), who do not serve on city council.

Montreal, since 1914, has generally been ruled by a small number of long-serving mayors: Médéric Martin (1914-1924, 1926-1928), Camillien Houde (1928-1932, 1934-1936, 1938-1940, 1944-1954), Jean Drapeau (1954-1957, 1960-1986), Jean Doré (1986-1994), Pierre Bourque (1994-2001) and finally Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012).

Of the pre-war era mayors, Houde is the most famous. He was a Canadien nationalist (as opposed to a French Canadian nationalist) and populist, he led the provincial Conservatives between 1929 and 1932, before Maurice Duplessis – who would become his enemy – ousted him. As a Canadien nationalist, he was strongly anti-militarist and opposed national registration/conscription in World War II. His call to oppose compulsory national registration in 1940 led to his arrest and internment (without trial) in concentration camps (in Ontario and New Brunswick) until 1944. His internment by the federal government for his opposition to conscription in controversial circumstances made him an hero in Quebec, but he was widely despised in English Canada. As mayor, in the pre-war era, he supported government intervention to help low-income families and homebuyers, oppose large corporations (notably in electricity) and protect the urban environment.

Reelected in 1944, the post-war era saw a moralizing campaign, backed by the Catholic Church, which sought to crack down on organized crime and ‘immorality’ (gambling, prostitution). Houde retired in 1954, and was succeeded by Jean Drapeau, a lawyer very active in the moralizing campaigns (and, prior to that, in the anti-conscription movement and the Asbestos Strikes of 1949) whose Civic Action League campaigned for good government, integrity and public morality.

Opposed by unions and Duplessis, Drapeau was defeated in the 1957 election by Sarto Fournier, a federal Liberal senator backed by Duplessis’ conservative machine. However, a reenergized and reorganized Drapeau, at the helm of the Civic Party, won the 1960 election and would remain in office until his retirement in 1986. Drapeau remains one of Montreal’s most memorable mayors, for his visionary vision – which some would say was perhaps a bit megalomaniac. Under his rule, which coincided with the rapid modernization and secularization of the province as a whole, Montreal developed and gained international notoriety. He spearheaded the construction of the Montreal subway, the Place des Arts and managed the extremely successful Expo 67. However, the 1976 Olympic Games were a disastrous flub, marred by embarassing delays and huge cost overruns which indebted the city for decades after his rule.

Drapeau’s Civic Party ruled with little opposition until 1974 – Drapeau won reelection with over 90% in 1966 and 1970. However, in the waning days of his rule, Drapeau began facing criticism for his authoritarianism, his costly projects, his little interest in environmental issues and his alleged biased in favour of ‘previleged classes’ and homeowners. A centre-left party, the Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM), emerged in the 1970s and became Drapeau’s main opposition. In 1982, following the 1980 report of a commission of inquiry into the 1976 Olympics which blamed the Drapeau administration for cost overruns, Drapeau was reelected over the RCM’s Jean Doré with 48% against 36%. Drapeau’s retirement in 1986, with no apparent successor, led to Doré’s landslide victory with 68% of the vote. The Civic Party collapsed quickly thereafter, in 1994.

Doré’s administration saw the redevelopment of the Old Port as well as parks and beaches on Île Sainte-Hélène. However, Doré’s popularity was eroded from the right by criticisms of ineffective management and laxness towards city employees, while the left broke with him in the wake of the Overdale fiasco (the expulsion of low-income tenants to clear land for a condo project which was never built). He was reelected with a reduced majority in 1990 over a divided centre-right opposition and weak left-wing/green opposition.

Doré lost reelection to Vision Montréal (VM) candidate Pierre Bourque in 1994. Bourque won 47.6% against 32.3% for Doré, with Jérôme Choquette (a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister) winning 13.1% on a centre-right pro-cars platform. Bourque became known for his pro-environment and greenspace policies, supporting the creation of parks, tree-planting initiatives, recycling and the reopening of the Lachine Canal. However, his passionate support for municipal mergers – under the slogan of ‘Une île, une ville‘ or one island, one city – proved to be his undoing. Backed by PQ provincial cabinet minister Louise Harel, the mergers were through for January 1, 2002. The forced mergers proved to be unpopular in many suburban municipalities of the island of Montreal, particularly the affluent and English-speaking municipalities of the West Island.

The merger controversy was the major issue in the 2001 campaign. Gérald Tremblay, a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister in Premier Robert Bourassa’s government, founded the Montreal Island Citizens Union (MICU/UCIM), which ran on a platform promising to reevaluate the mergers (which was done by Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government after 2003) and decentralize power to the boroughs. Tremblay was elected with a narrow margin over Bourque, 50.4% to 45.1%. Tremblay’s MICU won by crushing margins in the former municipalities of the West Island, a protest vote against the Bourque-led merger.

Tremblay won reelection in a low-key and boring race in 2005, once again defeating Bourque – 53.7% to 36.3%, with environmentalist candidate Richard Bergeron (candidate of Projet Montréal, PM) winning 8.5%. The MICU won a massive majority on City Council. Going into the 2009 election, however, Tremblay was weakened by the first rumours of corruption (water meters scandal) and was expected to lose reelection. He went up against Louise Harel (VM), a former PQ MNA and cabinet minister (known for her hardline separatist views), who was criticized for her poor English skills. Richard Bergeron, the leader of the left-wing environmentalist PM party, surged during the campaign, benefiting from dissatisfaction with both major candidates (especially after Harel’s lieutenant, Labonté, was forced to resign for his corrupt ties) and anti-corruption image. Tremblay was reelected with 37.9% against 32.7% for Harel and 25.5% for Bergeron. Tremblay’s UM held its absolute majority on City Council.

We all know by now what ensued.

For quite some time – before Tremblay’s resignation, the open secret was that federal Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who had represented the northern Montreal riding of Bourassa in the House of Commons since 1997, would resign from Parliament and throw his hat into the race. Coderre served as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship between 2002 and 2003 and as President of the Privy Council between 2003 and 2004, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, but was forced to resign from cabinet when his name was cited in the sponsorship scandal. Reelected in 2006, when the Liberals lost, he nevertheless remained a prominent figure in the reduced Quebec Liberal caucus and was briefly touted as leadership material. Known for his straight-talking and rather flamboyant style, Coderre resigned as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec lieutenant in September 2009, criticizing the control of the party apparatus by the Liberal Party elites in Toronto. The cause of the dispute was Ignatieff’s decision to appoint former justice minister Martin Cauchon as the Liberal star candidate in the NDP-held riding of Outremont, over Coderre’s objections. Having broken all bridges with the Liberal leadership, Coderre was marginalized within the Liberal Party, even if he remained as one of the party’s most senior MPs after the 2011 rout. Coderre announced his candidacy for mayor on May 17, and resigned from the House shortly thereafter.

Coderre founded his own personal machine, Équipe Denis Coderre (EDC), to run in the election. Simplistically, the EDC – like UM before it – could be considered as centrist parties close (but not tied) to the provincial/federal Liberal parties, often winning over the same kind of voters (Anglophones, ethnic minorities, more affluent voters and homeowners). There are, of course, no formal ties between any municipal parties and provincial or federal parties, but provincial politics and parties have influenced Montreal politics in the past. Camillien Houde was opposed by Liberal-backed candidates in the 1930s and by Duplessis-backed conservatives until 1947. Pierre Bourque was seen as close to the PQ, although he ran for the centre-right autonomist ADQ in the 2003 provincial elections. Gérald Tremblay was a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister. His main opponent in 2009, Harel, was, of course, a longtime supporter of the PQ.

Coderre had been joined by 17 incumbent city councillors prior to the election. Most of them came from UM, including Michel Bissonnet (borough mayor of Saint-Léonard), Helen Fotopulos (councillor, Côte-des-Neiges) and Alan DeSousa (borough mayor of Saint-Laurent). EDC also recruited Pierre Gagnier, the ex-PM borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Anie Samson, the ex-VM borough mayor of  Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

Coderre’s platform was rather vague. His biggest policy proposal was to create an Inspector General at city hall with powers to investigate and fight corruption, including investigation of all events before, during and after the awarding of public contracts. He faced some criticism over allegations that the Bourassa Liberal association had received donations from individuals and companies cited by the commission, and in September 2013 two former union leaders revealed that Coderre had met Eddy Brandone, close to the Montreal mafia, to facilitate a meeting with a union leader (currently the subject of controversy and allegations at the commission). The rest of his platform was mostly vague pablum: more reserved bus lanes, increase safety on streets and bike paths, invest in infrastructure upkeep, true pay equity for city employees, ‘state-of-the-art’ communication systems (WiFi in public spaces, GPS on buses, 3G in the subway), stimulate public housing construction or a program to buy abandoned land and buildings to use for community housing projects.

Coderre very much played on his notoriety, wit and populist demeanor – and to maintain his early lead, he laid low and avoided getting caught in the crossfire.

Vision Montréal (VM), a vaguely centre-left party which served as the main opposition to Tremblay since 2001, was led by Louise Harel since the 2009 election. She served as the leader of the official opposition to Tremblay, but given her failure to make inroads with ethnic minorities and English voters, she understood that she stood little chance of becoming mayor, especially against Coderre. In July 2013, Harel announced that she would not run and Marcel Côté, an economist and founding partner in a strategic management consulting firm. Politically, Côté ran for the conservative Union nationale (UN) in the 1973 election and later worked for provincial Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa and federal Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Therefore, Côté had little political experience and his name recognition was very low.

VM rebranded itself as ‘Coalition Montréal’ (CM), expanded to independents and ex-UM members. On corruption, CM proposed to create an ethics commissioner which would report directly to the audit committee; it also proposed to make all members of the executive council subject to police screening, promote openness and transparency and reviewing the way in which contracts are awarded. Otherwise, again, it was a lot of fluff or local issues: more bike lanes, extending the blue line of the subway to Anjou, more funding for public transit, reduce layers of bureaucracy that have built up, modernize city manage, restructure the executive council, promote ecoroofs and urban agriculture, accelerate organic waste collection, help 5,000 families buy property and build 15,000 social and community housing units over five years.

Côté ran into trouble when he was forced to admit that he was behind anti-PM/Bergeron robocalls. This kerfuffle added to an already disastrous and chaotic campaign. He lagged far behind the other candidates because of his low name recognition, his lack of charisma and his difficulty to connect with voters like a ‘polished politician’ (which he is not). He was also a last minute choice by a makeshift party which had been unsuccessful in its attempts to recruit a star candidate. His campaign, in which he spoke of his work for the federalist campaigns in the 1980 and 1995 referendums, was thrown into chaos when Harel proposed to create a linguistic watchdog on Montreal executive council – something much feared by English-speaking Montrealers.

Richard Bergeron was the only candidate in the race who had already run for mayor in the past – in 2005 and 2009. Bergeron leads a left-wing and environmentalist party, Projet Montréal (PM), which has traditionally emphasized issues such as sustainable development, development of green spaces or promotion of cycling and high-end public transit. With the corruption scandals, in which both UM and VM have been involved, PM has also played a lot on ethics, integrity and presents itself as the only clean party. PM’s green policies are not out of the mainstream in Montreal, where municipal politics generally skew to the left, especially in comparison to Toronto. All other parties have fairly green policies as well, favouring bike paths, green spaces, noise/pollution reduction or recycling.

Bergeron, however, is a controversial character and might be a net drag on his party. His personality (autocratic) tends to be off-putting for some voters, worsened by his image as far-left, anti-car dogmatist. Bergeron also made controversial and strange comments in the past; he once said that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer (although he might have walked that one back) and, most famously, alleged that George W. Bush might have been behind 9/11 (specifically the plane which hit the Pentagon and UA93 which crashed in Pennsylvania). He recently said that his 9/11 comments in a book were made in a previous life outside politics and were meant to shock, although I don’t think he has publicly recanted his 9/11 truther stuff.

PM’s platform emphasized its traditional green issues: reduce car traffic downtown by 50% in 20 years, extend three subway lines, build an electric tramway, demolish Bonaventure Expressway to build affordable housing, urban noise reduction policies, reducing the use of concrete in construction, promoting artistic and cultural activities, creating new parks and playgrounds and emphasizing urban development in areas close to public transit hubs. On corruption issues, Bergeron wanted to reduce the powers of the executive committee and boost transparency/openness. Again, Bergeron played on PM’s integrity and cleanliness, but he did draw some flack for his alliance with Applebaum in return for executive committee seats and tax concessions. He also said that the corruption problem had mostly been resolved.

The surprise of the campaign was the outsider candidate, Mélanie Joly, a 34 year old lawyer and PR professional. Earlier this year, Joly worked on current federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign, and she was endorsed by Trudeau’s brother Sacha. Joly’s outsider campaign generally leaned left, with an emphasis on improved public transit and keeping the city’s cultural identity. Her main proposal was to build a 130km rapid service/express bus system with reserved lanes, which she said would be less expensive than subway expansion or a tramway. Other policy proposals included a Charter of Nightlife, extending weekend business hours on busy commercial arteries to 9pm, greening the city with 300k new trees, encouraging entrepreneurship by simplifying business creation and a fight against social exclusion.

Integrity and transparency were also highlights of her platform, with proposals for an ethics code or abandoning the practice of awarding contracts to lowest bidders. However, The Gazette, Montreal’s English daily, said that Joly had “the most soft-on-crime platform” of the main mayoral candidates. She proposed to offer an amnesty to contractors that have committed acts of corruption and collusion if they compensate Montreal for the amount their illegal acts cost the city. That proposal, however, did not outrage any of her opponents.

Joly saw her support increase rapidly in the polls. However, she was forced to dump one of her candidates, Bibiane Bovet, a former escort, who was under investigation by the financial market authority. One candidate in Saint-Léonard had a history of domestic violence. These candidate kerfuffles, by no means limited to Joly’s party, did however highlight her inexperience and perhaps unpreparedness. Her makeshift party, Vrai changement pour Montréal (Real change for Montreal, VCM), ran only 26 candidates for City Council against a full slate for CM and PM and all but one candidate for EDC.

Turnout was 43.3%, which is up from 39.4% in the last election.

Denis Coderre (EDC) 32.15% winning 27 seats
Mélanie Joly (VCM-GMJ) 26.47% winning 4 seats
Richard Bergeron (PM-EB) 25.52% winning 20 seats
Marcel Côté (CM-EC) 12.79% winning 6 seats
Michel Brûlé (Integrity Montreal) 1.36% winning 0 seats
All others under 1% winning 0 seats
Borough parties winning 7 seats
Independents winning 1 seat

Denis Coderre was elected mayor of Montreal, which was quite predictable given that he had been the runaway favourite for over a year and at times his victory was taken as a near-certainty, reducing the stakes (and probably turnout) and making for a rather stale and boring predetermined campaign. However, there was nothing spectacular about his victory, especially if you consider him to be the strongest in a fairly weak field and take into account how he had been running for mayor, at least unofficially, for so long. Coderre won only 32% of the vote, which is even less than Tremblay’s anemic 38% in 2009. If there had been a second round or if the race had been fought with a preferential voting IRV system, it is quite likely that Coderre could have lost if the other candidates’ supporters coalesced behind Joly.

There were only two polls conducted with the actual candidates: Coderre led both by wide margins, with 39% support on October 5 and 41% on October 15. Joly placed second, with 24%, on October 15, with Bergeron in third at 21% and Côté at 11%. Of course, polling a municipal campaign – where parties are empty shells, voters extremely fickle with little ties to candidates and races based heavily on personality and candidate quality – is very difficult. Nevertheless, the polls badly overestimated Coderre and slightly underestimated Bergeron and Joly. Why? Might the apparent certainty of Coderre’s victory have depressed turnout amongst his potential supporters?

Furthermore, while Coderre is a strong candidate, he is not a fantastic candidate. A lot of voters know him, but I doubt very many are all enthused about him (and others dislike him outright). His campaign, finally, was rather low-key and failed to excite voters (who had very little to be excited about on the whole). It was boring, un-innovative and stale. Voters were likely looking for big ideas, a candidate with stances on issues which mattered most (corruption and infrastructure degradation) and an ability to channel voters’ feelings (a mix of anger, despair, resignation, stress). However, no candidate really stood out – their positions on most issues, including the most important ones, were very similar and all offered pablum and fluff rather than actual coherent policies.

Mélanie Joly, the surprise of the race, was perhaps the real winner (although her showing at the polls was not, in the end, a surprise – many felt she would do well, with the slightly overblown talk of Jolymania in the waning days). She was a political outsider and rookie like Côté, but what did she offer that he didn’t? For starters, her youthfulness and relative charisma. Her inexperience may have been a bit of an asset given the disrepute of municipal politicians with corruption: she stood out in a field with a longtime parliamentarian (Coderre), an increasingly worn-out old municipal politician with political baggage (Bergeron) and a no-namer possibly perceived as too close to big business (Côté). To a certain extent, she was seemingly able to capitalize on voters’ mood for change and something ‘different’, even if it was ultimately with a tagline like “real change” and through a general image of young (and thus less corrupt/not in the old guard.

Bergeron performed well, like in 2009, but he was unable to breakthrough. The party has potential, because it can benefit from CM/VM’s collapse and the high likelihood that Joly’s empty party of no-namers may deflate quickly. However, Bergeron, again, might be a drag on his party, keeping PM from appealing to a wider electorate and breaking the image of leftist and green dogmatists. Bergeron has announced that he will retire within two years. Bergeron’s departure gives PM a chance to detach himself from his ideological baggage and controversial past. But beware – one of the frontrunners to succeed him is Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, a controversial figure with an image as leftist/green dogmatist (anti-car, ‘anti-business’).

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

The geography of Montreal municipal elections is interesting in that they show the interplay of candidate, parochialism, traditional demographic factors (language, wealth, tenure etc) and federal/provincial partisan affinities. In 2009, the latter two proved rather important; this year, the first two might have proved more important.

Denis Coderre’s support did not quite reflect traditional provincial or federal Liberal support. His best performances came from his home turf in particular and ethnic suburbs in general. He won 66.7% in the multicultural (largest Haitian population in Canada) and low-income borough of Montréal-Nord (which has a bad reputation for crime and drugs, known for riots in 2008 and sometimes referred to as ‘the Bronx’), which also happens to be entirely covered by his former federal riding of Bourassa. Coderre also did very well in neighbouring boroughs: 55.2% in Saint-Léonard, another multicultural (a large Italian population with more recent Haitian, Arab and Latin American immigrants) borough which is rock-ribbed Liberal country; and 48.9% in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, a suburban borough which includes Rivière-des-Prairies, a largely Italian suburban community (Pointe-aux-Trembles is heavily Francophone, I would think that Coderre did not do as well there). However, Coderre also did very well in Anjou (45.3%), a largely Francophone (71%) and 60s suburban borough. Anjou had voted in favour of demerger in 2004, but the vote did not meet turnout requirements; UM was dominant in the borough until 2013. All of these boroughs have a common trait: they’re all located in northeastern suburban Montreal, close to Coderre’s home turf.

Coderre also performed well in Saint-Laurent (41.3%) and LaSalle (39.1%); both are former suburban municipalities which vote to deamalgamate in 2004 but fell short on turnout. Saint-Laurent is majority-minority (50%), it is known for its very large Arab and Muslim population (17% Muslim) – the largest in Quebec and probably in the country. LaSalle is 34% Anglophone and 37% non-white. Coderre narrowly won Ahuntsic-Cartierville, with 32.9% against 25.6% for Bergeron; almost certainly due to heavy support in Bordeaux-Cartierville, a multicultural district (44% visible minorities).

With the exception of Anjou and the parts of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles which aren’t Rivière-des-Prairies, Coderre’s strongest areas are Liberal strongholds, federally and provincially (although LaSalle voted NDP in 2011).

Mélanie Joly drew supports from all parts of the city, giving a map which transcended partisan leanings and demographic factors. She did best, by far, in the western suburban borough of L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where Joly won no less than 45.6%. Demographically, the borough, which has a small population, is largely Francophone (55%) with an Anglophone minority (30%) and predominantly upper middle-class, although mansions on L’Île-Bizard contrast with trailer parks. But it would seem that the main reason behind Joly’s success is that her party recruited former mayor Normand Marinacci (mayor of the island between 1999 and 2002), who was elected borough mayor on the VCM banner with 42.1% against the ex-UM incumbent, Richard Bélanger.

Joly also did well in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, which was her second best borough with 35%. Located on the West Island, the middle-class suburban borough has an Anglophone plurality (42%) and sizable visible minority population (38%). Joly performed well in the southwestern boroughs of Lachine (33.4%), LaSalle (33.6%) and Le Sud-Ouest (30.3%). The first two are largely suburban, with Lachine being a largely Francophone (57%) lower middle-class/working-class area. The latter is a more central area, historically working-class and ethnically diverse (Francophone, black, Irish, European, English etc) area which has seen gentrification in recent years, with condos and cheaper housing attracting young professionals – although pockets of severe deprivation remain, notably in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

So, Joly did rather well in western and southwestern suburban bedroom communities, both French-speaking and English-speaking. Perhaps her proposal for an express bus system to reduce commute times was attractive to those voters? L’Île-Bizard complains that it is linked by only one bridge to the island of Montreal, while the long commute times in Lachine or LaSalle are major local issues.

However, Joly also did quite well in less suburban areas. She won 31.3% in Ville-Marie, which covers Montreal’s revitalized and bustling downtown core from the Gay Village to McGill University on the slopes of Mont Royal. She narrowly topped the poll in her home borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (28.8%), a large and contrasted borough which includes low-income and immigrant-heavy Côte-des-Neiges, young student areas around the Université de Montréal and the trendy gentrified neighborhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG, where Joly lives). On the other hand, Joly didn’t do so well in the Francophone trendy bobo areas of Le Plateau (23.8%) or Rosemont (22.9%).

Most of the areas where Joly did well tend to vote Liberal provincially and NDP or Liberal federally. This is rather unsurprising: Joly appealed to federal NDP and Liberal supporters, but had less appeal to left-wing souverainiste voters.

Richard Bergeron’s best results, very unsurprisingly, came from the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (43.3%) and Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie (41.3%), in central Montreal. Le Plateau is Montreal’s stereotypical downtown artsy/trendy/bobo neighborhood, historically working-class (Jewish and Francophone), but today extensively gentrified. It has a large population of young adults (28% are 25-34, against 18% for the whole city), many singles (53.5% one-person households vs. 41% city-wide), very highly educated (50% with a university degree, against 28% in the whole city) and low religious practice (40% with no religious affiliation, against 18% for the city of Montreal). The borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie is more diverse, but the western end of the borough (La Petite-Patrie) is very similar to the Plateau. Directly north of that, Bergeron won the very diverse borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension by a hair, 32% against 31.7% for Coderre. I would easily wager that Bergeron did best, by a mile, in Villeray, a predominantly white Francophone area which, through gentrification, has become the latest trendy/hip neighborhood for highly educated young professionals in Montreal. In contrast, Coderre probably did much better in Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant neighborhood (57.6% non-white, formerly Greek, now with a large South Asian population) and Saint-Michel, a similar minority-majority neighborhood at the other end of the borough (63% non-white).

Bergeron also won Outremont (28.7%), a predominantly Francophone upper middle-class neighborhood which attracts highly educated young families (53% have a university degree) because of the quality of life and vibrant cultural scene (theaters etc). At the other end of the income scale, Bergeron won Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve by a hair with 27.2% (the borough was split three ways). The borough was historically known as Montreal’s Francophone working-class ghetto, and the borough as a whole remains rather poor (only 20% have a university degree, 9% less than the city-wide average) and very much Francophone (81%) and white (17.6% visible minorities). However, the western end of the district – by its proximity to downtown Montreal – has seen gentrification, although the growth of condos and influx of wealthier young residents ‘pushing out’ poorer residents has not been without controversy. Indeed, Hochelaga still has numerous low-income areas, which now contrast with rapidly growing gentrified parts.

CM’s goal was to transcend the east-west (and municipally, old city vs. post-2002 city) divide in Montreal politics which had sunk VM in 2009 (Harel, like Bourque in 2001, would have won on the pre-amalgamation boundaries – ironic!). The distribution of Côté’s support shows that he was somewhat successful in doing this, but obviously with his disastrous result he didn’t even come close to putting together a winning coalition. Côté’s best result was 21.6% in Outremont, good enough for third place (behind Bergeron and Coderre, ahead of Joly). He also performed well in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (19.3%), Verdun (15.1%), Le Plateau (15.3%), Ville-Marie (14.9%) and the old VM stronghold of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (14.6%).

QC - Montreal council 2013

Results of the city council and borough mayor elections

On city council, Coderre’s EDC will not have an absolute majority (33 seats required), having only 27 seats. Although Coderre has spoken about the need for unity and working together, I have little doubt he will be able to patch together a solid working majority with some of the seven councillors representing borough parties, all of them led by ex-UM members. The proliferation of so many borough-specific parties, largely concerned with decentralizing powers to boroughs and lobbying for their borough’s interests, made these elections far more confusing than the 2009 election, which had almost everywhere featured only the three city-wide parties. A lot of the races were decided by tiny margins.

EDC won eight borough mayoral races, against two for PM, three for CM, one for VCM/Joly and the remaining four by borough-specific parties. Joly’s party, which did not have a full slate and few well-known candidates, did poorly in city council races – winning only 11-12% overall. Joly’s slate, VCM, won only four seats.

EDC’s support in city council races largely reflected Coderre’s results in the mayoral race, with the exception of those places where borough parties (notably in Anjou) were dominant. It did best in the northeastern suburban and ethnic boroughs where Coderre’s support was strongest.

In Montréal-Nord, incumbent borough mayor Gilles Deguire (EDC, ex-UM) was reelected with 65% of the vote. CM had hoped that their candidate, Guy Ryan, the son of Yves Ryan – the pre-merger mayor of the city for 38 years, would do well on some kind of dynastic vote but he only won 20.8%. In the district of Ovide-Clermont, Coderre’s ‘co-candidate’ (running mate whose victory in a city council race gives a defeated mayoral candidate a seat on council) and ex-UM incumbent Jean-Marc Gibeau won no less than 72.2% of the vote. In Saint-Léonard, the incumbent UM-turned-EDC borough mayor Michel Bissonnet, a former Liberal MNA and President of the National Assembly from 2003 to 2008, was easily reelected with 65.7% of the vote. However, in the race for city council in Saint-Léonard-Est, EDC incumbent (ex-UM) Robert Zambito was forced to withdraw from the race when he was accussed of having offered a bribe, in 2010, to another UM councillor to get a good price on land. In a CM-PM contest, CM candidate Domenico Moschella won with an 82 vote majority, although there were more invalid votes (3,039) than votes in his favour (2,468)! In the other seat in the borough, EDC (ex-UM) incumbent Dominic Perri, who has sat on city council since 1982 (in Saint-Léonard prior to 2001), was reelected with 67.8%.

Coderre’s party did extremely well in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, very much transcending that borough’s deep political divide between Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles. The incumbent borough mayor, Chantal Rouleau (who had denounced the system of collusion in 2011), elected in a 2010 by-election for VM before switching to Coderre’s party, was reelected with 65.9% of the vote. EDC candidates, including one incumbent (ex-VM), won the predominantly Francophones districts of La Pointe-aux-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles with over 50% of the vote; in the former, VM/CM incumbent Caroline Bourgeois was defeated by her EDC opponents 50.9% to 28.6%.

In Saint-Laurent, incumbent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, an important player in the Tremblay era for UM, was handily reelected with 53.5% of the vote against 28.6% for VCM candidate François Ghali, a pre-merger councillor.

The three other wins for EDC in the boroughs were far narrower. In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, incumbent borough mayor Pierre Gagnier, originally elected for PM in 2010, won reelection for Coderre’s team with 30.4% against 27% for the PM candidate. EDC won two races for city council in the borough; in immigrant-heavy Bordeaux-Cartierville, ex-UM EDC incumbent Harout Chitilian was easily reelected with 48.9%. In Saint-Sulpice district, the EDC candidate won by only 9 votes over PM. PM incumbent Émilie Thuillier was reelected in Ahuntsic, a middle-class and well educated neighborhood, with 39.8% of the vote. Mélanie Joly’s mother, Laurette Racine, placed third with 20.9%. In the district of Sault-au-Récollet, however, VCM’s ‘star candidate’, Lorraine Pagé (a former union leader), won by 8 votes against EDC.

In Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, borough mayor Anie Samson, originally elected for VM, was reelected for Coderre’s party with a 730 vote majority over PM, 35.6% to 33.5%. CM held a seat in Villeray, where incumbent councillor and former PQ MNA Elsie Lefebvre held her seat quite easily with 45.6% against 36.9% for PM. Two EDC ex-UM incumbents held their seats in Parc-Extension and Saint-Michel by wide margins, while PM narrowly won an open seat in François-Perrault by a margin of only 11 votes over EDC.

In the southern borough of Verdun, EDC real estate agent Jean-François Parenteau won an open seat for borough mayor with a tight 553 vote majority over PM, in a very contested race which featured two borough parties, each led by ex-UM incumbent borough councillors. Parenteau won 24.8% against 22.4% for PM. ex-UM city councillor Alain Tassé, running for CM, won fourth with 14%. André Savard, one of the ex-UM borough councillors running for ‘Équipe Savard – option Verdun / Montréal’ placed fifth with 12.9% while Andrée Champoux, running for ‘Équipe Andrée Champoux pour Verdun’ won 7.5%. For city council, EDC triumphed in Champlain–L’Île-des-Sœurs by 329 votes, or 26.3% in a 6-candidate race. In Desmarchais-Crawford, a PM candidate won by 211 votes (only 24.8%) against Sébastien Dhavernas (EDC), a comedian and federal Liberal candidate in Outremont in 2008.

In Pierrefonds-Roxboro, EDC borough councillor (ex-UM) Dimitrios ‘Jim’ Beis was elected mayor with a 557 vote majority, with a VCM candidate placing second. CM’s candidate, ex-UM city councillor Christian Dubois placed last with only 13.6%. Joly’s party won the city councillor and borough councillor races in the district of Bois-de-Liesse (eastern Pierrefonds and Roxboro). Catherine Clément-Talbot, an incumbent borough councillor, won the other city council race.

As aforementioned, Joly’s major success in the city council race was in L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where VCM candidate Normand Marinacci won with 42.1% against 34% for incumbent mayor Richard Bélanger, formerly UM running for his own thing, ‘Équipe Richard Bélanger’. Marinacci had been mayor of L’Île-Bizard between 1999 and 2002. VCM candidates won two of the three races for borough council, the last one being one by one of Bélanger’s candidates.

One of the most closely watched races was in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, where incumbent PM mayor Luc Ferrandez drew controversy and much ire from shopkeepers and business owners with his ‘anti-car’ policies (higher parking metre fees, more one-way streets, removed parking places, expanded bike lanes). It would appear his critics are only a minority in his borough and he has a strong following of silent supporters: Ferrandez was reelected in a landslide, with 51.3% against 30.7% for CM candidate Danièle Lorain, an actress. In 2009, Ferrandez had won 44.8%. PM held all city and borough council seats with wide majorities.

In Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, PM mayor François Croteau, who switched from VM in 2011, won by an even larger margin: 59.5% and an 18.1k vote majority. Croteau implemented “green revolution” policies similar to Ferrandez, but they proved far less controversial. PM candidates swept all four city council seats.

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the most populous borough, had a number of closely watched races. In the race for borough mayor (held by the disgraced Michael Applebaum between 2002 and 2012), CM candidate Russell Copeman, the provincial Liberal MNA for NDG between 1994 and 2008, narrowly won the open seat with a 1,134 vote edge – or 29.4% of the vote (a fairly mediocre result considering Copeman was a ‘star candidate’ for CM) – against PM candidate Michael Simkin, who won 26.2%. Joly and Coderre’s candidate placed third and forth respectively, with about 22% each.

One very contested race for city council was in Côte-des-Neiges district, a district mixing university students, well-educated academics and a substantial number of ethnic minorities (40%). The incumbent councillor since 2009 was Helen Fotopoulos, a senior city councillor who was mayor of Le Plateau until 2009 and a close ally of former mayor Tremblay. Fotopoulos ran for reelection, this time under the EDC banner. She faced Magda Popeanu (PM), who had placed second in 2009, and Marcel Côté’s co-candidate, Albert Perez. Popeanu won by 77 votes, taking 30.9% against 29.7% for Fotopoulos. Côté/Perez placed fourth with only 18.7%.

In the district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, held by PM’s Peter McQueen, a former provincial Green candidate, McQueen went up against Mélanie Joly’s co-candidate, Marie-Claude Johnson – the daughter of former Quebec Premier Pierre-Marc Johnson (PQ). However, McQueen was reelected by 649 votes, taking 38.3% against 31.4% for Joly/Johnson. Mélanie Joly has said that she would run in a by-election to win a seat on city council, although I’m not sure if she intends to get one of her four members to step down for her or wait for a genuine vacancy to arise.

In Loyola, a predominantly Anglophone and allophone district with a large immigrant population, an independent candidate, former councillor Jeremy Searle, won by 354 votes although with only 23.4% of the vote. The seat was open with the retirement of the independent ex-UM incumbent.

Marvin Rotrand, a member of city council since 1982 and UM-turned-CM councillor, was reelected for CM with 48.2% in Snowdon, a majority-minority district with a large Jewish population. In immigrant-heavy Darlington district, ex-UM incumbent Lionel Perez, who had been borough mayor since Applebaum’s election to the mayor’s chair in 2012, was reelected with 35.7% against 30% for a CM candidate.

Ville-Marie doesn’t elect a borough mayor, but all three races for city council were highly disputed. In Saint-Jacques district, a lively area which includes the Old Port, Old Montreal, the hip Quartier Latin, the Gay Village and the new entertainment district; Richard Bergeron ran, represented by his co-candidate Janine Krieber, who is former federal Liberal leader (and current MP) Stéphane Dion’s wife. He faced VM/CM incumbent François Robillard and a star candidate from EDC, former Radio-Canada journalist Philippe Schnobb. Bergeron/Krieber won by only 81 votes (36 votes after recount), taking 29.2% against 28.2% for Schnobb. The incumbent member placed fourth, behind VCM, with 16.7%.

In Sainte-Marie district, covering the poorer eastern extremity of Ville-Marie borough (old French working-class neighborhood), Louise Harel (VM/CM), elected in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in 2009, ran for a seat on city council – held by Pierre Mainville, elected for PM in 2009 but sitting as an independent since last year. Harel lost, effectively ending her long political career. PM’s Valérie Plante won by 263 votes, taking 33% against 29.5% for Harel and 21.2% for the indie incumbent.

VCM won Peter-McGill district, a multicultural and predominantly Anglophone district which includes McGill University and some of downtown Montreal’s skyscrapers.

Coalition Montréal was decimated in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the old VM stronghold. Only the incumbent borough mayor, former Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard (VM/CM) was reelected, with 36.3% against 31.1% for a PM candidate. In Hochelaga district, outgoing interim mayor Laurent Blanchard (CM) lost by 669 votes to a PM candidate. PM also won Harel’s old district, Maisonneuve–Longue-Pointe, while EDC won Tétrautville and Louis-Riel.

It was a similar story in Le Sud-Ouest, where CM held all but one seat (a borough councillor seat held by PM). Only the incumbent VM/CM borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, was victorious: by 115 votes over PM, taking 27.5% of the vote against 27% for PM. PM won all other races – the two city council districts and the two additional borough councillor races.

In the former municipalities of Anjou, Lachine, LaSalle and Outremont, borough parties were successful. In Anjou, the incumbent mayor, Luis Miranda, was reelected for his Équipe Anjou party with 56.5%. Miranda, a proponent of decentralization and, formerly, de-amalgamation (in 2004), has been mayor of Anjou since 1997. He was reelected for Tremblay’s MICU in 2001, but perceiving Tremblay’s administration as insufficiently bold on decentralization, he was reelected for  Équipe Anjou in 2005 – before switching back to UM for the 2009 election. He left the party to recreate Équipe Anjou in 2012, followed by the city councillor and the three borough councillors. Équipe Anjou candidates swept all other races with comfortable majorities.

In Lachine, Claude Dauphin, a former president of the executive committee under Tremblay and one of Paolo Catania’s guests at the ‘357c’ private club, was reelected with 54% as the candidate of the Équipe Dauphin Lachine. His party also won the borough’s one city council seat and all 3 borough councillor seats, although with much narrower majorities.

LaSalle borough mayor Manon Barbe, another ex-UM member who founded her own party, Pro action LaSalle, upon quitting UM, was reelected with 36.6% and a 2,901 vote majority. While EDC won one of the two districts for city council, Barbe’s party won all other races.

Outremont mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, a former UM member who now leads the ‘Équipe conservons Outremont’ whose main cause is keeping the small borough from being merged into an adjacent borough, won reelection with a small majority of 390 votes against PM – with 39.1%. There was a close race for borough council in Claude-Ryan district, which has a large Jewish community (45% of residents are Jewish). Mindy Pollak, a Hasidic Jewish woman running for PM, won by 168 votes (35.3%) against Pierre Lacerte, an independent candidate who is very critical of Hasidic Jews in the area. Pollak said that she wanted to bridge community divides.

Quebec City

Quebec City, the provincial capital, is Quebec’s second largest city. Since 2007, the city has been governed by the very popular Régis Labeaume.

Between 1989 and 2005, the capital was governed by mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier, a cabinet minister in Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s first government in the 1970s. L’Allier’s party, the Renouveau municipal de Québec (RMQ), leaned to the left. After presiding over the forced mergers which saw suburban municipalities such as Sainte-Foy, Beauport, Charlesbourg, Sillery or Vanier merged into a new Quebec City, he retired in 2005. He was suceeded by the very colourful Andrée Boucher, an anti-merger crusader who had been mayor of Sainte-Foy between 1985 and 2001. Boucher ran a shoestring campaign, almost invisible, but won handily with 46% against 33.5% for the RMQ candidate and 10.5% for Marc Bellemare, who had briefly been justice minister in Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Lacking a majority on city council as she was an independent, Boucher’s tenure was fairly unstable and her mercurial behaviour annoyed some who worried about how she would manage to successfully organize the huge celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City’s foundation in 2008.

Boucher died in 2007, precipitating a mayoral by-election. Régis Labeaume, a businessman running as an independent, surged from 5% in September to 59% on election day in December 2007. He handily defeated Ann Bourget, a RMQ city councillor, who placed second with 33%. The celebrations for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary were a huge success, bringing worldwide acclaim to the city. In 2009, Labeaume was reelected in a landslide with 80% of the vote, his only semi-relevant opposition coming from controversial (but popular) right-wing talk radio host Jeff Fillion (8.5%) and Yonnel Bonaventure, leader of a local Green party (8.1%). His party, Équipe Labeaume, won 25 out of 27 seats.

Régis Labeaume remains very popular. He is a rather populist right-leaning mayor, known for his ‘straight-talking’ style – often lashing out at ‘incompetents’ and criticizing municipal employees. The city has been doing well economically, and many credit Labeaume from injecting dynamism and pride to the provincial capital.

His populist, pro-business and entrepreneurial style is a good fit for Quebec City, which despite being a capital city with a large civil servant population, is known for being one of the most right-wing regions in the province. In his first full term in office, Labeaume’s landmark initiative has been the construction of a new amphitheatre/indoor arena, part of a popular bid to bring back the Québec Nordiques, the city’s old NHL (hockey) team which left for Colorado in 1995. Work has begun on the new arena, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The construction of the amphitheatre stirred much controversy and political debate in the province in 2011 and 2012, after Labeaume announced that Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s media empire, Québecor, would have management rights over the arena. L’Allier’s former city manager, Denis de Belleval, took the decision to court, arguing the deal was illegal. Labeaume successfully lobbied the then-Liberal provincial government and the then-opposition PQ to pass a law, law 204, which banned judicial challenges to the Québecor deal, although de Belleval’s case continued. The passage of law 204 notably led to a crisis in the PQ, with a number of PQ MNAs quitting the party and throwing Pauline Marois’ leadership of the party into chaos for a while. In June 2012, the Superior Court found in favour of Quebec City in de Belleval’s case. In June 2013, a strike paralyzed work until the PQ government passed a back-to-work law in July 2013, ending the strike.

Labeaume faced more serious opposition this year, from a new centre-left party, Démocratie Québec, whose mayoral candidate was David Lemelin. DQ also included the two independents elected in 2009 and two dissident councillors from Labeaume’s team. David Lemelin was shaken when it was revealed that he had been convicted for domestic violence 20 years ago.

Labeaume’s crusade in this election was against municipal employees and public sector unions. With the municipal employees’ pension fund in deficit, he was to get municipal employees and their union – rather than taxpayers – to foot part of the bill. He also wants to increase their working hours to 37.5/week (currently 35) and cut employee costs by 5%. Labeaume spoke of the need for a “strong mandate” for him to do this, because he wants the provincial government to change collective bargaining laws to give the city additional powers against unions in negotiations, perhaps forcing them to accept the city’s conditions if there is no agreement after one year. DQ’s platform focused on direct democracy and sustainable democracy, but talked about the need for healthier and normal relations with city employees and limiting subcontracting.

Turnout was 54.9%, up from 49% in 2009.

Régis Labeaume (EL) 74.07% winning 19 seats
David Lemelin (DQ) 24.03% winning 3 seats
Others 1.90%

Labeaume obtained the “strong mandate” he was looking for from voters. With turnout well over 50% and up from 2009, and Labeaume himself winning nearly 75% of the vote (despite much stronger and organized opposition than in 2009), there’s no question that he has his mandate. In his victory speech, the reelected mayor pressed the provincial government to take heed of his landslide – saying that the population wanted ‘change’ – and called on the PQ government, notably labour minister and downtown Quebec City MNA Agnès Maltais to “make heard their opinions on our proposals” (on pension reform). He also called on the unions to negotiate, “in a calm and civilized manner” with his administration. However, the PQ minister of municipal affairs, Sylvain Gaudreault, has already commented that he does not feel that Labeaume’s mandate rests solely on this one issue.

In a reduced city council shrunk from 27 to 21 members, Labeaume’s candidates won 18 out of 21 districts (the additional seat always being the mayor’s seat) while the opposition DQ won three districts. DQ incumbents Yvon Bussières and Anne Guérette, the two independents elected in the Labeaume tsunami in 2009, were reelected in their districts in La Cité-Limoilou borough. Their districts, Montcalm-Saint-Sacrement and Cap-aux-Diamants respectively, cover downtown Quebec City – including the beautiful Vieux-Québec, which is the most left-wing part of the city. Both won over 55% of the vote. However, in Maizerets-Lairet, the ‘turncoat’ EL-turned-DQ incumbent was defeated, winning only 31.6% of the vote. In the district of Saint-Louis-Sillery, which includes the very affluent old suburb of Sillery, DQ candidate Paul Shoiry – a pre-merger mayor of Sillery – was elected by an even wider margin an EL-held open seat, winning 60.6% of the vote. However, in Cap-Rouge-Laurentien, DQ mayoral candidate David Lemelin (represented by his co-candidate) was defeating, taking only 27.1% against 53.1% for Laurent Proulx (EL), a 26-year old candidate known for his opposition to the 2012 student strikes in the province (he was a ‘carré vert’ – supporter of the tuition fee increases). In suburban and right-leaning boroughs like Les Rivières, Charlesbourg, Beauport and La Haute-Saint-Charles, EL candidates and incumbents won all seats, often with upwards of 70% of the vote.


Laval, a suburban island located north of the island of Montreal, is Quebec’s third largest city (pop. 401,553). Unlike the other large cities in Quebec, Laval was not concerned by the difficult forced mergers over ten years ago – fourteen municipalities (Chomedey, Duvernay, Laval-des-Rapides etc) were amalgamated to form the city of Laval, which covers the whole island, in 1965. Since amalgamation in the 1960s, Laval has been a growing suburban community, which has attracted new businesses (high-tech, services, pharmaceuticals) and new residents (including upwardly-mobile immigrants); suburban growth led to the expansion of the Montreal subway across the river to Laval, with three new stations opening (after massive cost overruns) in 2007. As in a lot of suburban municipalities, local politics have usually been dominated by pro-business politicians and/or businessmen keen on rapid development, but not as active on environmental or sustainability issues. Although the city’s economy has been diversified, it remains very much a suburban community, lacking a true downtown.

Laval has had few mayors since 1965, a lot of the city’s mayors staying in office for a long time. Lucien Paiement, who is said to have brought in the system of organized corruption which was blown up to pieces last year, served between 1973 and 1981. In 1989, Gilles Vaillancourt, the candidate of outgoing mayor Claude Ulysse Lefebvre’s party (the Parti du ralliement officiel des Lavallois, PRO), was first elected. Vaillancourt, as noted above, stayed in office until the revelations of the Charbonneau Commission and his frontline role in the corruption system forced him to resign in November 2012. Vaillancourt was reelected comfortably in every election thereafter, and after 2001, he ruled without opposition on city council – basically making Laval a single-party state.

The city’s rapid development under his rule, which saw – among others – the expansion of the Montreal subway to Laval and the inauguration of a new bridge linking Laval and Montreal on highway 25, was one of the factors in his political longevity. However, Vaillancourt and the PRO’s control of resources and access to illegal campaign funds from developers and engineering firms made the PRO a well-oiled electoral machine which would attract the strongest candidate and discourage opponents. In 2005, for example, Vaillancourt’s strongest opponent (who won 16% to the mayor’s 74.6%) was a 18-year old student! In 2009, Vaillancourt, facing slightly more serious but still badly disorganized, divided and underfunded opposition, was reelected with 61% against 22.6% for his closest opponent.

One witness at the Charbonneau Commission testified how Vaillancourt, in 1997, had intervened to neutralize a potentially strong rival (the son of his predecessor), a business partner of the witness. Vaillancourt allegedly told him that if he dissociated himself from his friend, he would get more contracts and tripling the engineering fees he was getting from the city. Refusing to do so, Vallée’s firm became persona non grata in Laval and the city apparently told North Shore municipalities to boycott his firm.

This election marked the beginning of a new era for the city. Only three incumbent municipal councillors ran for reelection, most of the councillors having been cited as accomplices in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. The PRO, the dominant party of Laval politics since 1980, dissolved last year and a number of its leaders are officials are under investigation.

There were four major candidates in the race, each running under their own party banners.

Marc Demers, a retired police officer and PQ candidate in Laval-des-Rapides in the 2007 and 2008 provincial elections, ran for the Mouvement lavallois, whose candidate had placed second with 22.6% in the last election. In 1982, Demers, as a police officer, had investigated Vaillancourt (then a PRO municipal councillor) and his family (his brother, arrested in May 2013, owned a furniture store) for fraud but he was transferred to another service quickly thereafter and that case was later closed. Corruption, ethics and integrity formed the cornerstones of his campaign: he proposed to review the rules for awarding contracts, more transparency (open data initiative) and taking judicial action to recovery money stolen by corruption and collusion. His platform also emphasized environmental issues (a moratorium on the destruction of wetlands until 2020, reducing greenhouse gas emissions), direct democracy and a property tax freeze in 2004.

The legality of Demers’ candidacy was questioned by his opponents because he did not live in Laval between July 2012 and January 2013, while the law requires a candidate to have lived in the municipality for at least one year before the election – but at the same time, the law is vague over whether this means one full year, uninterrupted, from the election or not. Demers’ lawyer argued that his client fulfilled this requirement given that he had resided for years in the city before summer 2012. His opponents, however, argued that his candidacy was not legal and they may still take the issue to court. They accused Demers of using his ties to the PQ to ask the provincial government to change the law to accommodate him, a claim which he denies.

Jean-Claude Gobé, the candidate of a new party called Action Laval, a provincial Liberal MNA for LaFontaine (Rivière-des-Prairies in NE Montreal) between 1985 and 2003 (but he left the party to sit as an independent in 2003) and a federal Liberal candidate in 2006 (Alfred-Pellan riding in eastern Laval). His tenure as MNA must have been fairly unremarkable given the absence of a Wikipedia article on the guy! Naturally, Gobé’s campaign focused on change as well, and emphasized much of the same things: direct democracy, proximity to citizens, annual investments of $350 million in infrastructure, decontamination of industrial lands, security cameras, a property tax freeze for at least two years, spending increases under 2.5% a year and a symphony house. Gobé was very critical of the fact that the city is under the trusteeship of the provincial government

Claire Le Bel, an incumbent one-term city councillor elected for the PRO in 2009, ran for a new party called Option Laval. As one of the new councillors elected in 2009, Le Bel (along with the outgoing mayor) had not been involved in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. Her campaign received much attention after she accepted to meet with Vaillancourt. She smartly taped the whole meeting, in which the former mayor offered her his very discreet help. In the meeting, Vaillancourt said that he could gets “his guys” (sounds legit!) to help her out a bit. Le Bel, who found the whole thing disgusting, understood that the disgraced former mayor was offering her money (he also talked about other things in the taped meeting, and it’s rather interesting). However, any good press her actions in that episode that might have gotten her were eclipsed when her campaign manager, a Bloc Québécois candidate in the 2008 federal election, shortly thereafter alleged that he had been assaulted on the highway. It later turned out that he had made the story up, and he faces charges of public mischief under the Canadian Criminal Code. He stepped down as campaign manager. Many believe he made this story up to boost Le Bel’s campaign (but probably without her knowing he made it all up), but you kind of need to an idiot to do such a thing.

Robert Bordeleau, who had run for mayor in 2009 for the Parti au service du citoyen (PSC) and won 14.9% of the vote, ran again this year. I don’t know much about the guy or his campaign, but he apparently owes the provincial revenue agency $120,000 in taxes and Demers accused him of leading a mudslinging campaign.

Turnout was 41.1%, up from 35.7% in 2009.

Marc Demers (ML) 44.19% winning 18 seats
Jean-Claude Gobé (AL) 24.3% winning 2 seats
Claire Le Bel (OL) 12.4%
Robert Bordeleau (PSC) 10.86%
Jacques Foucher (Ind) 3.18%
Others 5.08%
Independents winning 2 seats

Marc Demers, who was kind of the favourite, won by a wide margin. Demers was likely helped by his strong campaign focus on integrity and probity, and his own image as a police officer, longstanding opponent of corruption (and Vaillancourt) and as a man of integrity; this probably made him the most credible and appealing candidate in a field without any ‘star candidates’ and generally low-calibre candidates. Demers’ priority will be getting the city back on track, by fighting corruption and ending the provincial government’s trusteeship of the city (he says he wants to keep the trustees as advisers for a few months).

Demers will have a strong majority on city council. His candidates won 17 out of 21 districts, with two seats going to Gobé’s Action Laval and two seats to independents (one of whom is an ex-PRO incumbent; the two other incumbents seeking reelection lost). Gobé’s party won the districts of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Chomedey; in the mayoral race, Chomedey, a very multicultural neighborhood.

Other cities

The election in Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth largest city located across the river from Ottawa, was quite a surprise. The incumbent mayor, Marc Bureau (independent), elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, lost reelection by a wide margin to Buckingham city councillor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the candidate of a new left-leaning party, Action Gatineau, which had three incumbents. Bureau won just 36.2% of the vote, against 52.6% for Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. Bureau had a solid lead in one poll taken, and was not considered as being endangered, making his defeat somewhat puzzling. But a lot of results in the smaller cities and towns in Quebec local elections often are just that – puzzling and surprising. Turnout was 41.9%, up from 2009.

Bureau never was a wildly popular mayor (he won reelection with only 44% over a divided field in 2009), but he did not face any major scandals or popular protest. On the other hand, his name was not attached with any big projects and a lot of campaign promises went unfulfilled. In his last term, he promoted ‘Destination Gatineau’, a new tourist project on the Ottawa River which is projected to cost $137 million (with federal and provincial funding and the private sector for most of it) and open in 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Pedneaud-Jobin did not hide his lukewarm feelings for the project, which he says focuses too much on tourists (and besides, he says it’s the wrong way to attract tourists to stay in the region) and he wants to revitalize other ‘downtowns’ of the spread out and amalgamated city (Aylmer, Old Hull, Gatineau, Buckingham). Jacques Lemay, a former fire chief running as an independent, proposed to attract tourists with a rollercoaster and big wheel, a covered dome for year-round cross-country skiing and a large park with fountains.

Bureau received some criticism after the mid-October roll-out of Rapibus, a new bus rapid transit system (similar to Ottawa’s Transitway) ran into problems and users complained of longer daily commute times. The Rapibus project also had cost overruns. Pedneaud-Jobin cited the Rapibus ‘flop’ as one of the factors contributing to his victory.

A desire for change, the mayor’s unfulfilled promises and his mediocre record likely explain Bureau’s defeat. It was, however, an ambiguous result: Pedneaud-Jobin won by a large margin, but only four of Action Gatineau’s candidate for the 18 city council seats were elected – and two AG incumbents, in Aylmer and Lucerne, lost reelection.

In Longueuil, a South Shore suburb of Montreal which is Quebec’s fifth largest city, incumbent mayor Caroline St-Hilaire, a former Bloc MP, was reelected to a second term in office with 87.3% of the vote against 12.7% for a little-known independent candidate. St-Hilaire was first elected in 2009, ending 27 years of rule by the Municipal Party of Longueuil (PML). She won 52.9% against PML candidate Jacques Goyette, who took 47.1%. Goyette was backed by outgoing mayor Claude Gladu, the PML mayor between 1994 and 2001 and 2005 and 2009. Already in 2009, the PML candidate suffered from accusation of impropriety and talk of illegal financing of the party and cost inflation in public contracts. Since then, the PML, which had won 15 seats against 12 seats for the mayor-elect’s Action Longueuil party, has collapsed. Witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission confirmed that a similar system of collusion to that in Laval and Montreal existed in Longueuil, with firms obtaining contracts in returning for donations to the PML. PML councillors either switched to Action Longueuil or became independents. St-Hilaire’s campaign and party played a lot on the issue of integrity and transparency, and warned voters of not going back to the past. And they didn’t: St-Hilaire won reelection with only token opposition from a last-minute and little-known independent, Pardo Chiocchio, who apparently has ties to the old PML. For city council, St-Hilaire’s Action Longueuil won 13 out of 15 districts, giving then a large majority. 3 AL candidates had already been acclaimed. One independent incumbent (ex-PML) won reelection in the Laflèche district of Saint-Hubert borough, and another independent (ex-PML) incumbent in Greenfield Park, a borough with a substantial Anglophone minority, was reelected for a local party, Option Greenfield Park. However, two prominent figures of the old PML, Claude and Robert Gladu – the son and nephew of former mayor Claude Gladu – lost reelection in their Vieux-Longueuil districts to AL candidates.

Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny, elected for a first term in 2009, won reelection to a second term with 73.4% of the vote in a four-candidate field. His closest rival won 14.3%. It’s a much more comfortable victory than his initial win in 2009, when he had won by only 122 votes. However, Sévigny will still face trouble on the municipal council: his party won nine out of 19 districts, against 10 seats for independents.

The mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, won reelection to a fourth term with 63% of the vote – a disappointing result after he won 78% in 2009. Tremblay, first elected in 2001, something of a YouTube star for his folksy and wacky way of talking. But he is also a controversial character, for his Catholic traditionalist and conservative views. He was criticized for reciting a prayer at the start of every session of the municipal council, and despite a 2008 decision of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission which found that the prayer infringed on freedom of conscience and religion, continued the practice. In 2011, the Tribunal des droits de la personne ordered the mayor and the city to stop reciting the prayer, remove religious symbols from public buildings and pay $30,000 in damages to the complainant. The city appealed the judgement to the Quebec Court of Appeals found in favour of the mayor in May 2013, but that decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In August 2012, during the provincial electoral campaign, Tremblay criticized PQ candidate Djemila Benhabib, a feminist and anti-fundamentalist writer of Algerian descent, who had criticized the presence of the crucifix in the National Assembly. Tremblay said that French Canadians were ‘soft’ and were being told how to behave by a person from Algeria, “and we aren’t even able to pronounce her name.” He said that he didn’t like that “those people” (immigrants) come to Quebec and establish “their rules.” His remarks were denounced as xenophobic and created an uproar, but a majority of his constituents sided with him.

Tremblay remains very popular, despite some accusations of mismanagement and mishandling of public contracts. He won 63% of the vote against 37% for Paul Grimard, who campaigned on the topic of integrity. Tremblay is an independent, and independents hold 17 of the city’s 19 districts. Grimard’s party won two seats.

Additional results for other cities are available here. Maps of the results in all cities explored above are available on the Canadian Election Atlas blog.

Argentina 2013

Midterm legislative elections were held in Argentina on October 27, 2013. Open, simultaneous and mandatory primaries (primarias abiertas, simultáneas y obligatorias, PASO) had previously been held on August 11, 2013.

Electoral system

One half (127) of the members of the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and one third (24) of the members of the Senate (Senado) were up for reelection. Members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, serve four year terms: those elected in 2013 will serve until 2017, while those elected in 2011, alongside the presidential election, will serve until 2015. Members of the Senate serve six years term and are renewed by thirds every two years.

The seats in the Chamber of Deputies are roughly apportioned based on each province’s population, although each province is entitled to a minimum of five seats. Although the lower house is supposed to reflect the distribution of the population between the various provinces, the aforementioned minimum of 5 deputies per provinces and a constitutional provision stating that the number of seats may only be increased has meant that there is pretty severe misapportionment. The smaller provinces are overrepresented, while the largest provinces tend to be underrepresented. For example, the province of Buenos Aires, which contains 39% of the Argentine population, elects only 27% of the members of the Chamber of Deputies.

The 23 provinces and the city of Buenos Aires serve as the 24 electoral districts in which deputies are elected, using the d’Hondt method of proportional representation with a 3% threshold. The lower house has exclusive powers to levy taxes, raise troops and to accuse public officials (President, Vice President, cabinet ministers, members of the Supreme Court) before the Senate.

In the Senate, each province and the city of Buenos Aires is represented by three senators. The party/coalition list which won the most votes in the province win two seats, while the last seat is given to the party/coalition list which placed second; at least one of the three seats must be held by a woman. Not all provincial senators are elected at the same time. In this election, only the provinces of Chaco, Entre Ríos, Neuquén, Río Negro, Salta, Santiago del Estero, Tierra del Fuego and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires elected senators.

The Senate has exclusive powers to ratify international treaties, approve changes to constitutional or federal criminal laws, confirm or impeach presidential nominees to the cabinet, the judiciary, the armed forces, and the diplomatic corps, initiate federal revenue sharing laws and authorize the President to decree a state of siege.

The open primaries (PASO) were created in 2009. These primaries are open and mandatory: all citizens eligible to vote must vote in the primaries and, later, in the general elections. Each political movement runs one or more lists in these primaries, and all movements which win over 1.5% of the valid votes are qualified for the general election. In some (admittedly limited) cases, a given party/coalition may have more than one list competing against one another in the primaries: in this case, voters who wish to support said party/coalition will choose between that party/coalition’s various competing lists; and the list which won the most votes is the only one qualified for the general election (provided the sum of all the party’s competing lists is superior to 1.5%). Some parties/coalitions which had ‘internal primaries’ of this kind apparently had pre-electoral agreements agreeing to combine names from the competing lists for the general elections.

The PASO were designed to democratize the electoral process by allowing voters a greater say in the electoral process (by choosing between various competing lists/candidates within one movement) and to limit the proliferation of parties in the general election. However, Argentina’s party system is not very conducive to competitive internal primary elections like those seen in the United States or some European countries: parties remain very much artificial, oftentimes personalist, shells and coalitions very much ephemeral and unstable. As such, only a few parties/coalitions standing the PASO had ‘internal’ primaries between competing lists.

The major change to the electoral process this year is the extension of the franchise to people aged 16 and over (previously 18). Voting is voluntary, however, for new voters aged between 16 and 18 (it is also voluntary for voters older than 70).


President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – CFK – was reelected to a second term in office in October 2011 with 54% of the votes; one of the largest margins of victory for an Argentine President (only Hipólito Yrigoyen and Juan Perón won by larger margins). Since then, however, CFK has seen her popularity declined as the country’s economy hit roadblocks and her government ran into controversy. CFK’s populist, re-distributive and nationalist policies; as well as various moves to shore up her authority and centralize power in the executive branch have been the matter of much controversy and have polarized domestic and foreign public opinion.

When CFK was reelected in 2011, Argentina’s economy was performing very strongly, with annual growth of around 9% in 2010 and 2011. However, the country’s economy suffered a sharp slowdown in 2012, with the country’s economy (allegedly) growing by only 1.9%. The Argentine economy, however, seems to have recovered nicely now and growth is expected to pick up a bit in 2013 (+3.5%).

Subsidization of fuel imports, soaring public spending, steep interest rates on external credit and the Central Bank’s expansionary monetary policy have increased inflation. According to widely discounted government estimates, the consumer price index was up 10.5% on the previous year in September 2013. However, the government has been widely accused of manipulating inflation and other economic data to downplay rising prices (and to save billions in payments on index-linked debt), and independent private estimates peg inflation at 25%. The Secretary of Internal Trade, Guillermo Moreno, has been criticized for having intervening in the national statistics agency (INDEC) beginning in 2007 and manipulating inflation statistics. In September 2013, he was indicted for dereliction of duty and abuse of authority.

In February 2013, the IMF took the extraordinary step of sanctioning Argentina for misleading reporting of statistics and gave Buenos Aires until the end of last month to take ‘remedial measures’. The government has announced that it is developing a new CPI, but it is unclear when it will be rolled out or if it will be any more trustworthy than the government’s current doctored numbers.

In 2012, as part of a program of fiscal austerity, the government imposed foreign exchange controls, tightened import and export rules and introduced financial restrictions on travel to prevent capital flight. For example, those wishing to buy dollars to travel abroad must explain where, when and why they are travelling to the revenue agency (AFIP). These limits on the purchase of US currency have not discouraged Argentines to travel abroad or acquire foreign currency (they may still get US dollars by withdrawing cash from their credit accounts at the official rate, although the government recently increased the tax on credit card purchases made abroad to 20%) but it has created a thriving black market which offers US dollars at nearly double the official exchange rate. These measures successfully reduced capital flight $21.5 billion in 2011 to $3.4 billion in 2012, while profits and dividends sent abroad have also been slashed significantly. However, the measures have reduced consumer and investor confidence, annoyed importers and angered middle-class consumers facing scarce or overpriced foreign goods. Furthermore, with high inflation, many Argentines are seeking to convert their savings into US dollars.

CFK’s economic and fiscal policies since taking office in 2007, following in the footsteps of her predecessor and late husband Néstor Kirchner, have largely been aimed – ostensibly – at redistributing wealth and reducing poverty. These policies have clearly been successful as far as reducing the poverty rate in the country, which peaked following the 1998-2002 economic and social crisis in Argentina. It is hard to say by how much the poverty rate has dropped; the INDEC, in late 2012, placed the poverty rate at 5.2% but private estimates in 2010, reported by the CIA World Factbook, place it much higher at 30%. Once again, the official statistics have been a matter of debate: last year, the INDEC’s announcement that it considered 6 pesos ($1.3) per person per day to be sufficient for an entire day’s food was widely derided by Argentines. But at any rate, poverty has fallen dramatically since the Kirchners took office in 2003.

CFK created, in 2009, the Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH), a conditional grant given to each child under 18 (or any child with disabilities) whose parents are unemployed or are employed in the informal economy, conditional to school attendance and keeping up to date with vaccinations. It was expanded to pregnant women in 2011. The allowance is now 460 pesos per month, or US$88.

CFK has been criticized by some foreign investors and proponents of liberal economics for her penchant towards economic nationalism. In April 2012, the government announced that it would renationalize YPF, an oil and gas company privatized by President Carlos Menem in 1993 and sold to Spanish oil and gas company Repsol in 1999. Repsol YPF in 2012 operated about half of the nation’s refinery capacity, accounted for 57% of the national market share in gasoline and other motor fuels and its share of oil and gas production was 34% and 23% respectively. CFK accused Repsol of not investing enough in oil exploration; Repsol blamed the decline in exploration and production on the government’s export controls and local price controls on oil and gas. The government’s move was strongly criticized by Repsol and the Spanish government, and Repsol is still demanding US$10.5 billion for its stake in YPF.

Some accused CFK of backtracking from “economic sovereignty” when, in May 2013, YPF announced a deal with Chevron for a joint exploratory venture in the new unconventional oil field of Vaca Muerta in Neuquén Province. CFK announced a tailor-made deal which allows energy companies which invest $1 billion to sell 20% of their production abroad without paying export taxes or being forced to repatriate profits (after five years).

Energy remains a headache for the government; since 2011, Argentina is a net importer of energy, badly eroding the country’s foreign currency reserves.

The government faced large anti-kirchnerista protests in 2012, with large protest marches in major cities across Argentina on November 8 (8N) 2012.

One of the most marking episodes of her second term has been the conflict between kirchnerismo and the Grupo Clarín, the largest media conglomerate in Argentina which owns the most popular daily newspaper in the country (Clarín), cable TV operator Cablevisión and several free-to-air and cable TV stations. The Grupo Clarín, unlike the other main private newspaper La Nación, had generally been neutral or favourable to the government under Néstor Kirchner’s presidency. However, it grew critical of Kirchner in 2007 and sided with the opposition against CFK in the 2008 agricultural crisis.

The government responded by passing an anti-trust law (Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual) in October 2009. The law limits the number of television and radio licences any one company can own, mandates that all licences be apportioned equally between the public, private and non-governmental outlets, and that no company can own both free-to-air television or radio channels and cable ones. Companies may hold no more than 24 cable television licenses and 10 free-to-air radio and television licenses. The government claims that the Grupo Clarín has more than 240 cable licenses, while the group says it has only 158.

The Grupo Clarín appealed the law in courts, and won a three-year injunction which expired on December 7, 2012 as per a Supreme Court ruling in May 2012; an injunction which blocked application of an article which allowed for divestment of licenses. The Supreme Court upheld the December 7 limit in November 2012, but a lower court ruling on December 6 extended the injunction until a court issued a definite ruling on the constitutionality of the law. The government said that the judge who issued that ruling was under investigation for gifts and bribery, including a trip to Miami paid for by a company owned by Clarín.

In December 2012, a federal court ruled the law to be constitutional, but an appeals court ruled in April 2013 that it was unconstitutional. Finally, on October 29, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled the law to be constitutional and order the immediate and effective application of all articles of the law.

The law has polarized public opinion. The government and its supporters, some of the more left-wing opposition groups as well as human rights groups have argued that the law intends to democratize the media, increase media pluralism and break monopolies held by powerful economic interests. The slogan Clarín miente (‘Clarín lies’) has become a popular rallying cry for the government’s supporters. The Grupo Clarín, free speech advocates and other parts of the opposition consider the law to be an attempt to stifle dissent and freedom of expression. The Grupo Clarín considers that the law is biased against them; others worry that the government is trying to limit critical media and place the media in their hands.

In April 2013, the government announced a major judicial reform which it presented as a democratization of the Argentine judicial system. Two aspects of the law were particularly controversial: one would limit the use of injunctions against the state (with some exceptions) to a maximum time limit of 6 months; the other creating direct partisan elections for 12 of the 19 members of the Council of Magistrates (Consejo de la Magistratura), the body which nominates judges and supervises the administration of justice. The law was passed by Congress in April 2013, but in June 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that several articles – including the more controversial ones – were unconstitutional.

There are persistent rumours that CFK wishes to amend the constitution to allow her to run for a third term in office. Such a reform will be hard to pass, given that it would require a two-thirds majority. However, the idea lingers over everybody’s heads and both the government and the opposition have made use of that idea.

CFK’s government has irked the United Kingdom by reasserting Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), after the British started offshore oil exploration. Buenos Aires barred British vessels from using Argentine ports. Argentina’s position – attempting to acquire the islands through peaceful diplomatic means – is backed by the MERCOSUR, UNASUR, ALBA, the African Union, Russia and China. In March 2013, voters on the Falkland Islands quasi-unanimously (1,513 vs. 3) confirmed their desire to remain an Overseas Territory of the UK. Given that Argentina has little hope of success, many have seen CFK’s reassertion of Argentina’s claim to the contested islands as little more than nationalistic saber-rattling.

CFK has also been hurt by concerns over declining public services, the poor state of infrastructure (highlighted by a 2012 rail disaster in Buenos Aires) and rising criminality. Corruption remains a major challenge to the government (and the opposition). Vice President Amado Boudou, once seen as a potential successor to CFK, has been hurt by a influence peddling scandal in 2012.

Days before the election, CFK was forced to put aside her official duties as she recovers from a cerebral hematoma. She will rest for 30-45 days, and her embattled Vice President will be in charge.

Contending forces

Argentine politics can be extremely confusing for outsiders (and even insiders!). The party system in Argentina is certainly far less stable and clear-cut than in other countries. Things are further complicated by the division of the dominant ‘Peronist’ camp (Peronism has long been devoid of actual substance, and can now mean just about anything – both the Kirchners and the right-leaning Carlos Menem, for example, were/are Peronists) and the Peronist Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista, PJ); the large numbers of political parties; the changing and unstable electoral alliances; the differing electoral alliances and party alignments from province to province; the importance of provincial parties (especially in the smaller provinces) and various other uniquely Argentine oddities.

Ideology is not dead in Argentine politics, but traditional Western ideologies have had little place in post-1946 Argentine politics (the emergence of Peronism, that uniquely Argentine ideology which confounds all definitions) and politics, especially since Carlos Menem’s presidency (1989-1999) and the 1998-2003 economic crisis, have become even less driven by ideology and more by personality (and personal squabbles amongst the elites). For example, kirchnerismo is more or less accurately described as left-wing and placed into a broader Latin American context, but kircherismo does not unite the entire Argentine left: a significant portion of the left, both of the ‘Old Left’ social democratic tendency and the ‘New Left’ ecosocialist/post-materialist left variety, are strong opponents of kirchnerismo (which in turn is allied with some more conservative leaders…).

The Frente para la Victoria (FPV) is an electoral alliance composed of small parties and various factions of the Peronist PJ; in short, the FPV is the kirchnerista party (it is also referred to as oficialismo; the governing party). Kirchnerismo is often identified as left-wing Peronism and kirchnerismo is associated with themes such as advocacy for human rights issues (persecuting those responsible for the crimes of the Dirty War), opposition to neoliberalism, support for MERCOSUR and South American unity, opposition to free trade (FTAA), progressive attitudes on societal issues (same-sex marriage, abortion) and nationalism. The Economist called CFK a Chavista-lite while others generally consider Argentina to be equidistant between more ‘radical’ socialist/leftist South American leaders like Chávez/Madura, Correa and Morales and ‘moderate’ centre-left leaders such as Bachelet or Lula/Dilma.

However, even if the national direction of kirchnerismo in federal government is populistic and leftist, at the provincial level things are less clear-cut. FPV governors, often known as the local ‘barons’ of kircherismo, tend to be more conservative and pragmatic. A number of left-wingers and progressives disliked kirchnerismo, which remains closely associated with paternalist, clientelist and opportunistic Peronism. Some criticize the FPV’s anti-poverty policies, for example, arguing that they are clientelistic programs designed to keep reliably Peronist voters in poverty rather than actually relieving poverty.

Néstor Kirchner was able to deal deftly with Peronist governors. However, CFK has appeared to be a brasher leader, whose personality and behaviour have alienated many Peronists and former allies. For example, Hugo Moyano, the powerful leader of the major trade union in Argentina (the CGT) has turned against CFK, accusing her of acting like a “goddess”. She also sidelined a number of her husband’s allies and has difficult, cool relations with some FPV governors, notably Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires since 2007 and national leader of the PJ.

Instead, CFK has become more reliant on a group of left-wing Peronist young activists, La Cámpora, a movement led by her son Máximo. La Cámpora, which gained prominence just around the time of CFK’s original victory in 2007, has grown in power and influence under CFK’s presidency. Mariano Recalde, a secretary-general of La Cámpora, is the CEO of Aerolíneas Argentinas, the state-owned airline. CFK has also actively encouraged the promotion of La Cámpora members on the FPV’s electoral lists, and it is no secret that she likely has a greater political role planned for her son, Máximo Kirchner, in the upcoming years.

Critics of kirchnerismo consider La Cámpora to be a disateful group of obnoxious hooligans. They consider the broader movement to have become arrogant, autocratic and intolerant in recent years, and often regard kirchnerismo as a personality cult worshipping the late Néstor Kirchner (died in 2010) and CFK, similar to the broader Peronist worship of Juan and Evita Perón.

The anti-kirchnerista opposition is hopelessly divided, something which has been a great boon to the Kirchners – no matter how unpopular they might become, they can always count on the opposition being divided and lacking a strong leader.

More on the right and within the broader Peronist/Justicialist family, dissident or federal Peronism (Peronismo Federal) is made up of more conservative and right-leaning Peronists who oppose kirchnerismo and oficialismo. The Peronist family has always been fractious and prone to nasty divisions, but it became even more hopelessly divided during the Argentine economic crisis in 2001/2002, culminating in the 2003 presidential election, where the PJ fielded three presidential candidates: Néstor Kirchner (backed by incumbent President Eduardo Duhalde), former President Carlos Menem (known for his neoliberal economic reforms while in office) and San Luís Governor Alberto Rodríguez Sáa.

It has always been unclear where dissident/Federal Peronism ends and where kirchnerismo begins: a number of politicians, Argentine politicians being notorious flip-floppers and opportunists, have shifted allegiances from one side to another – often depending on which way the wind is blowing. Eduardo Duhalde broke with Kirchner in around 2005, and ran against CFK in the 2011 election. Other PJ leaders or governors have also drifted in and out of kirchnerismo, swelling the ranks of federal Peronism in tough times for kirchnerismo. Federal Peronism itself is divided: Eduardo Duhalde and Alberto Rodríguez Sáa, two figures of federal Peronism, both ran in the 2011 presidential election.

Federal Peronism’s alliances have also varied from election to election and from province to province. In the 2009 midterm elections, in the province of Buenos Aires, Colombian-born businessman Francisco de Narváez – a dissident Peronist and leader of his own party (Unión Celeste y Blanco)- allied with Mauricio Macri, the chief of government of the city of Buenos Aires; forming an alliance between dissident Peronism and Macri’s liberal-conservative Propuesta Republicana (PRO). In 2011, however, de Narváez allied with Ricardo Alfonsín’s centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR) to run (unsuccessfully) for governor of Buenos Aires (in his 2007 gubernatorial run, he was allied with Macri’s PRO).

Mauricio Macri’s PRO, founded as a coalition in 2005, is the most vocal defender of economic liberalism and liberal conservatism in Argentina. It is, however, fairly marginal party. The party’s base remains the city of Buenos Aires, where Mauricio Macri has been chief of the government (jefe del gobierno) since 2007. The party also has some support in the province of Sante Fe, thanks to Miguel Torres del Sel, a former comedian who won 36.1% in the 2011 gubernatorial election (placing a close second).

The non-Peronist opposition is hardly more united. Historially, the Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical, UCR) has tended to be the main opposition to the PJ, since 1946. The UCR is Argentina’s oldest political party, and one of the few parties which has managed to be more than an empty personalist machine. Founded in 1891, the UCR was the vehicle of Argentina’s urban middle-class, which was excluded from power by the conservative landowning elites until 1916. Following the advent of universal suffrage in 1912, the UCR governed Argentina several times (1916-1930, 1958-1962, 1963-1966, 1983-1989, 1999-2001) with some success, but the UCR has long been dogged by internal squabbles or unfavourable external circumstances (the collapse of the economy and hyperinflation under Raúl Alfonsín in the 1980s, the economic crisis at the turn of this century).

Since 2001, the UCR is a fairly pathetic shadow of its former self, divided and badly lacking strong leadership. Its presidential candidate in 2003 won only 2.3% and it did not run one of its own in 2007 (it supported Roberto Lavagna). At the provincial level, a large number of Radical governors were radicales K, pro-Kirchner Radicals: Mendoza Governor Julio Cobos was CFK’s running-mate in the 2007 presidential election. The era of radicales K ended with the 2008 agricultural crisis, when Vice President Cobos famously broke with CFK. Since then, the UCR has been slightly stronger and less internally divided, although still rather weak. Many saw Ricardo Alfonsín, the son of late President Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), as the UCR’s great hope in 2011, but he ran a poor campaign and tacked too much towards the right for some Radicals’ tastes. Alfonsín won only 11.1% of the vote.

Alfonsín’s 2011 alliance with the right (de Narváez) has been broken since, and a number of major UCR branches in the provinces have allied with centre-left forces in this election. However, a lot of people on the centre-left or on the left distrustful of the UCR and the ‘old politics’ it symbolizes (bad memories of the disastrous presidency of Fernando de la Rúa between 1999 and 2001, old Radical ‘barons’ in the provinces) and the UCR’s willingness to ally with the right, PRO included, at a local level.

The Progressive, Civic and Social Front (Frente Progresista, Cívico y Social, FPCyS) denotes a centre-left alliance between the UCR and centre-left parties, notably including the Socialist Party (PS) in a number of provinces. A Radical-Socialist alliance, known as FPCyS, has governed the province of Santa Fe since 2007 (led by the PS) and similar alliances have been formed in other provinces, including Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires (although it is known as UNEN).

The Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) is another party with a long history, having been founded in 1896. The PS, which was quite successful at organizing working-class voters and became a major player in trade unions, saw its long years of hard work and efforts frustrated by Juan Perón, who coopted the working-classes and transformed Argentina’s main trade union confederation (the CGT) into a corporatist union close to the Peronist movement. As such, the PS has always had a poor relation with Peronism. In 1946, the PS and the communists allied with the right and the Radicals in an anti-Peronist front backed by the US and in 1955, numerous Socialists welcomed the military coup which overthrew Perón. After Perón’s first election, the PS never regained its former strength, wracked by numerous internal divisions (some sectors attracted to revolutionary/left-wing Peronism, others to Trotskyism).

Since the restoration of democracy, the PS has slowly gained ground. The Socialists have governed the city of Rosario, the largest city in the province of Santa Fe, since 1989. Hermes Binner, a doctor and former PS mayor of Rosario (1995-2003), was elected governor of Santa Fe in 2007, in an alliance with the Radicals.

In 2011, Binner formed the Broad Progressive Front (Frente Amplio Progresista, FAP), a left-wing progressive coalition with smaller leftist parties. As the FAP’s candidate, Binner did fairly well in the 2011 presidential election, placing a distant second in the general election with 16.8%. The FAP attracted a largely urban and middle-class electorate, voters who are traditionally opposed to Peronism but supportive of ‘modern’ progressive and social democratic politics. The FAP’s 2011 platform emphasized morally/socially liberal positions combined with more social democratic and leftist position on economic issues, not all that different to kirchnerismo. The FAP did not really participate as such in this election, the coalition being divided by those who seek a more centrist alliance with the UCR and those who want left-wing alliances.

The Movimiento Libres del Sur, a leftist alliance, is a component of the FAP whose most famous member is federal deputy Victoria Donda. The movement opposes neoliberalism and criticizes kirchnerismo from a more left-wing and progressive angle (corruption, mismanagement, human rights, inequality), and also places a large emphasis on human rights issues. Victoria Donda, a former FPV supporter, was herself born in captivity to two desaparecidos and usually focuses on human rights issues.

The Generación para un Encuentro Nacional (Partido GEN) is another component of the FAP, based out of the province of Buenos Aires and led by Margarita Stolbizer, a former UCR member and lawyer active on human rights and women’s rights issues. Stolbizer left the UCR and founded GEN in 2007, opposing the UCR’s decision to endorse the ex-kirchnerista Roberto Lavagna (she supported Elisa Carrió).

Outside the FAP is the Movimiento Proyecto Sur (PSur), a leftist party led by filmmaker Pino Solanas. PSur was founded in 2007 and is a left-nationalist party, similar in ideology to chavismo (Pino Solanas praised Hugo Chávez several times in the past). PSur supports the nationalization of all natural and mineral resources (including oil) and an investigation of the country’s foreign debt (what is ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’). Pino Solanas’ PSur, which is relevant only in the city of Buenos Aires, won 24.2% (second place) in the city in the 2009 midterm elections. In 2011, PSur refused to join the FAP. PSur is similar to Martín Sabbatella’s Nuevo Encuentro (a small party in Buenos Aires province now allied with the FPV) and some sectors of the FPV; however, like the Libres del Sul, Solanas is extremely critical (from a leftist standpoint) of kircherismo, particularly on issues such as corruption or human rights.

Civic Coalition for the Affirmation of an Egalitarian Republic (Coalición Cívica para la Afirmación de una República Igualitaria, CC-ARI) is a vaguely centre-left and social liberal party of varying strength. The CC-ARI finds its roots in the Argentinos por una República de Iguales (founded 2000/2001), a group of centre-left dissidents from the ruling Alianza who opposed President Fernando de la Rúa’s right-wing economic policies. The ARI participated in the 2001 legislative elections and was founded as a party, led by UCR dissident Elisa Carrió, in 2002. Carrió, very active on corruption issues (she gained notoriety by investigation corruption in the privatizations under Menem’s administration), ran for President for the first time in 2003, winning 14.1% – placing fifth in a hotly contested race. In 2006, Carrió formed a broader coalition with smaller parties (including GEN), styled Coalición Cívica. Carrió’s aim of forming a big tent anti-K coalition (including, potentially, the PRO, Radicals and dissident Peronists) annoyed several leftist members of ARI and was criticized by some parts of the PS. Carrió’s personal social conservatism (pro-life, anti-gay marriage) and her alliance with personalities reputed to be more right-leaning (Alfonso Prat Gay, María Eugenia Estenssoro) was also criticized by some on the left. Right after the 2007 election, a group of left-leaning ARI deputies left the party to form their own group, criticizing what they perceived as a right-wing shift in the CC/ARI.

Carrió’s CC (allied with the PS) nevertheless emerged as the main opposition to kirchernismo in 2007, when she placed second (23%) behind CFK in that year’s presidential election. In the 2009 election, Carrió successfully formed an electoral alliance with the Radicals and the PS, known as the Acuerdo Cívico y Social (ACyS). The ACyS won the most votes nationally and became the strongest anti-K opposition force in Congress. However, as always in Argentine politics, alliances are short-lived. All three main components of the ACyS went their own ways in 2011: Carrió embarked on an ill-advised trainwreck of a presidential campaign (she placed last in the general election with 1.8% and the CC-ARI was decimated in Congress), the UCR tacked to the right with Ricardo Alfonsín’s equally disastrous campaign and the PS tacked to the left with the FAP.

CC-ARI’s ideological direction is rather vague; combining bits and pieces of social democracy (Carrió has been a vocal advocate of a universal basic income grant to all children under 18), anti-corruption moralism, all-encompassing anti-kircherismo and centrism. Carrió’s opposition to abortion (which is strictly regulated and illegal under most circumstances) and same-sex marriage (most of CC-ARI voted in favour, though) has been criticized, as was her support for the rural sectors in the 2008 agricultural crisis and her vague position on the government’s re-nationalization of Aerolíneas Argentinas and pension funds.

The 2009 electoral reforms, the PASO and the 1.5% threshold to qualify for general elections has catalyzed Argentina’s weak and fractious (of course) far-left Trotskyist groupings to unite, which they did in 2011 as the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (FIT). The FIT is an alliance of three parties, the largest and oldest of which is Jorge Altamira’s Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero). In 2011, Altamira, as the FIT’s presidential candidate, won 2.3% of the vote in the general election (doing better, you will notice, than Elisa Carrió!).

Major battles

Local media coverage of Argentine midterm elections usually focuses heavily on the largest provinces, particularly the largest of them all: the province of Buenos Aires (not to be confused with the separate autonomous city of Buenos City/CABA), with a population of 15.6 million (9.9 million in the 24 suburban municipalities in the Gran Buenos Aires), or about 39% of the entire country’s electorate. The race in the province of Buenos Aires attracts, by far, the most attention by the domestic and foreign media (indeed, the foreign media’s coverage of Argentine midterms just pretends the rest of the country doesn’t exist!) but also by the politicians themselves. After all, Buenos Aires is often key to winning presidential elections, so politicians and coalitions tend to be particularly concerned by their performance in the province.

In the 2009 midterm elections, for example, Buenos Aires (BsAs) drew all the coverage because it featured a hotly contested battle between a dissident Peronist-PRO alliance (Unión-PRO) list led by Francisco de Narváez and a FPV list led by former President Néstor Kirchner and Daniel Scioli. De Narváez’s list won, with 34.7% against the FPV’s 32.2%, and the dominant narrative became that the Kirchners had suffered a huge defeat. Which was, to an extent, true and replicated in other major provinces. In 2005, a senatorial contest in the province between a FPV list led by CFK (then the First Lady) and a dissident PJ list led by Hilda Duhalde (Eduardo Duhalde’s wife) marked the break between Duhalde and Kirchner, his erstwhile ally (CFK won 45.8% to 20.4%).

It is no different this year. The new icon of dissident Peronism this year is Sergio Massa, the young (41) mayor of the suburban town of Tigre and CFK’s former Chief of Cabinet (2008-2009). Massa’s political career highlights the contradictions inherent to contemporary Peronism and its general carelessness towards coherent ideology: Massa began his political career in Álvaro Alsogaray’s right-wing UCeDé in the 1980s, before becoming an enthusiastic supporter of Peronist President Carlos Menem’s policies (menemismo) in the 1990s. After 2003, Massa became a kirchnerista (elected as a federal deputy on FPV lists in 2005 and 2009). Between 2002 and 2007, he served as head of the National Social Security Administration (ANSES). The same year that he featured on Kirchner’s FPV list in BsAs, however, he resigned as Chief of Cabinet and broke with the Kirchners. According to a 2010 U.S. Embassy WikiLeaks cable, Massa described Néstor Kirchner as “perverse” and “a psychopath,” “a monster,” and “a coward” whose bullying approach to politics masks a deep sense of insecurity and inferiority (the cable also mentioned Massa’s presidential ambitions).

Sergio Massa, the new icon of dissident Peronism?

In June 2013, Massa founded the Frente Renovador (FR), a big-tent anti-kirchernista/dissident Peronist movement. Massa has recruited his candidates and supporters from a wide variety of angles. The base of the FR is formed by a ‘G8’ of eight (including Massa) anti-kirchnerista Peronist/FPV mayors from BsAs province (mostly in the conurbano bonaerense); seven of whom (including Massa) were reelected under the FPV label in 2011. The Peronist mayors of the working-class and low-income municipalities (partidos) of the conurbano bonaerense, widely known as the barones del conurbano, are powerful and influential powerbrokers and local bosses, at the head of large (and electorally important) clientelistic networks. They are key to all Peronists, anti-K or pro-K, which aim to win in BsAs.

Sergio Massa’s FR list was seconded by Darío Giustozzi, the FPV mayor of Almirante Brown (a poor industrial suburb, which voted 64% for CFK in 2011). His other candidates included Clarín journalist Mirta Tundis (3rd), the former Peronist governor of BsAs province Felipe Solá (broke with Kirchner in 2008, 4th), the former president of the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) José Ignacio de Mendiguren (5th), incumbent PRO deputy Soledad Martinez (6th) and Elisa Carrió’s 2011 running-mate Adrián Pérez (7th).

Ideology or ideological coherence isn’t Massa’s top priority – far from it. It is very unclear where he actually stands on the relevant issues and he was criticized for his lack of concrete stances; most of the FR’s priorities are vague goals such as job creation, fighting criminality and narco-trafficking, fighting inflation, improving education or promoting judicial independence. The most substantive part might be his strong opposition to a constitutional amendment allowing CFK indefinite reelection. Otherwise, Massa, like most Peronists, is first and foremost a pragmatist who will do whatever it takes to be elected and govern with the prevailing winds. He presents himself as a reformist, centrist and moderate and states that he is economically Keynesian.

Massa’s team included Alberto Fernández, ‘the guru’, who had served as Chief of Cabinet between 2003 and 2008 before he too broke with the Kirchners and Roberto Lavagna, Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner’s economy minister between 2002 and 2005.

Massa’s FPV opponent was Martín Insaurralde, the mayor of Lomas de Zamora (another impoverished conurbano town) since 2009. His second candidate was Juliana Di Tullio, an incumbent FPV deputy and social psychologist well known for her advocacy of feminist and social progressivism (she introduced the gender identity law, backed the same-sex marriage law and supports decriminalizing abortion). Di Tullio, also reputed to be an ‘ultra-kirchnerista’, became president of the FPV’s parliamentary faction in May 2013.

The FPCyS list, made up of the UCR, PS, GEN, CC-ARI and Libres del Sur, was led by Margarita Stolbizer (GEN) and Ricardo Alfonsín (UCR), both of them incumbent deputies.

Francisco de Narváez, the winner of the 2009 elections in BsAs, ran as the head of a strange alliance, United for Freedom and Work (Unidos por la Libertad y el Trabajo), which was backed by Hugo Moyano, the powerful leader of the truckers’ union and the CGT (or a faction of it); whose man on the list was incumbent deputy Francisco Omar Plaini, elected for the FPV in 2009 (2nd). After a poor result in the PASO (10.5%), the list’s general election campaign was marred by constant pressures, notably by Clarín (which was probably behind Massa), for de Narváez to drop out (while the FPV and governor Scioli likely maneuvered to keep him from dropping out, to split the anti-K vote). Moyano apparently dropped his endorsement of de Narváez late in the campaign, not wanting to continue backing a dead horse.

Seemingly, de Narváez’s excuse for not withdrawing from the race was that he felt that Massa was a ‘Trojan horse’ for CFK, although this argument sounds a bit silly.

One of the most closely contested ‘internal’ primaries in the PASO was in the city of Buenos Aires (CABA), a stronghold of anti-kirchnerismo politics. The UNEN alliance, basically a local version of the FPCyS-type centre-left coalitions extended to Pino Solanas’ Proyecto Sur (which is very strong in CABA), had four competing lists in the PASO: Coalición Sur, Juntos, Suma Mas and Presidente Illia. The Coalición Sur was led by Elisa Carrió (CC-ARI) for the lower house and Pino Solanas (PSur) for the Senate, with Solanas seconded by former federal deputy María Fernanda Reyes (CC-ARI). The Juntos list was led by Ricardo Gil Lavedra, the president of the UCR faction in the Chamber of Deputies (he is also known for having been a judge in the Trial of the Juntas in 1985, and briefly served as justice minister under de la Rúa). For the Senate, the list was made up of incumbent federal deputies Alfonso Prat-Gay (CC-ARI) and Victoria Donda (Libres del Sur, actually federal deputy for BsAs, not CABA). The Suma Mas list for the Chamber was led by Martín Lousteau, an independent economist who served as CFK’s economy minister between 2007 and April 2008 who was forced to resign following the 2008 agricultural crisis (held responsible for the increased levies on soybean exports). Lousteau, who was not a FPV loyalist, had also been criticized by CFK’s inner circle/the FPV and was allegedly at odds with Guillermo Moreno, the Kirchner loyalist and internal trade secretary. Rodolfo Terragno (UCR), former Senator and Chief of Cabinet in de la Rúa’s administration, ran for Senate on the Suma Mas slate. The weakest candidate was Leandro Illia (Presidente Illia list), the son of former President Arturo Illia (UCR, 1963-1966).

For the Chamber of Deputies, Carrió’s list won 48.5% of the votes cast for all UNEN lists, placing first ahead of Lousteau’s list (35.9%) and Gil Lavedra (12.8%). Illia won only 2.8%. The Senate primary was closer, with 41.5% for Solanas’ ticket, 32.8% for Terragno’s ticket and 23.7% for the Prat-Gay-Donda ticket. For the general election, the final UNEN list included names from both the Carrió-Solanas coalition and the Lousteau-Terragno coalition: Carrió (CC-ARI) and Lousteau as the top two candidates for the Chamber; for the Senate, however, Solanas and Reyes, both from Coalición Sur, formed a ticket.

The PRO list in the capital was led by Gabriela Michetti (Senate) and Sergio Bergman (Chamber). Michetti, a federal deputy since 2009 and formed vicejefa of the CABA government (2007-2009) under Macri, was a close friend and supporter of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis). The Chamber list was led by Sergio Bergman, a Reform Judaism rabbi, and Federico Sturzenegger, a banker.

The FPV list for the lower house was led by Juan Cabandié (born in captivity under the military regime, adopted by a police officer and only discovered his true identity/parents in 2004), a human rights activist and prominent member of La Cámpora. Senator Daniel Filmus, who ran and lost against Macri in 2007 and 2011, ran for reelection.

The races in other provinces will be covered in the results section.


Aggregate national results, both in terms of votes and seats, are difficult in Argentina because the composition of coalitions and the attitude of national parties vary from province to province. Besides, a national snapshot is not all that instructive for those same reasons. For national results, I refer to Andy Tow (who has put together the best archive/atlas of Argentine election results on the web), the government (Ministry of the Interior’s election department) and the newspaper La Nación.

Chamber of Deputies

Andy Tow:
PJ-FPV and provincial allies 33.13% winning 47 seats > total 130 seats
Dissident Peronism (including FR) 25.03% winning 26 seats > total 31 seats
FPCyS/UNEN, UCR, CC-ARI, PS etc 24.44% winning 36 seats > total 62 seats
PRO and allies 7.24% winning 10 seats > total 14 seats
FIT and far-left 6.46% winning 3 seats > total 6 seats
Provincial parties 2.66% winning 2 seats > total 6 seats
Compromiso Federal/PRO 1.04% winning 3 seats  > total 8 seats

PJ-FPV and provincial allies 33.15% > total 132 seats
FPCyS/UNEN, UCR, CC-ARI, PS etc 23.95% > total 61 seats
Dissident Peronism (including FR) 21.39% > total 24 seats
PRO and allies 9% > total 18 seats 
FIT and allies 5.11% > total 3 seats
Others 7.4% > total 18 seats

La Nación:
PJ-FPV and provincial allies 33.27% winning 47 seats > total 130 seats
Dissident Peronism (including FR) 24.75% winning 26 seats > total 37 seats
FPCyS/UNEN, UCR, CC-ARI, PS etc 24.68% winning 36 seats > total 61 seats
PRO and allies 8.04% winning 12 seats > total 17 seats
FIT and allies 6.40% winning 3 seats > total 6 seats
Others 2.87% winning 3 seats > total 6 seats

Senate (seats only)

Andy Tow:

PJ-FPV and provincial allies 14 seats > total 40 seats
FPCyS/UNEN, UCR, CC-ARI, PS etc 3 seats > total 19 seats
Dissident Peronism (including FR) 2 seats > total 5 seats
Provincial parties 3 seats > total 3 seats
Compromiso Federal 0 seats > total 3 seats
PRO and allies 8.04% 2 seats > total 2 seats

Argentina 2013

Kirchnerismo suffered a setback in the midterm elections, but nevertheless retained a narrow absolute majority; the end result being that the composition of both houses of Congress changed only minimally. According to La Nación‘s calculations, the FPV gained two seats in the Chamber (127 seats to 130) from the pre-election composition while dissident Peronism and the non-Peronist centre-left opposition lost seats (-2 and -4) and the PRO and far-left gained seats (+3, +1). In the Senate, the FPV lost 3 seats. The lack of significant changes in the makeup of the Chamber of Deputies (in overall, nationwide terms) is likely due to the fact that these seats were last up in 2009, another midterm in which the kirchneristas suffered losses (losing their absolute majority).

The magnitude of the defeat seems to be similar to 2009. As in 2009, but unlike in 2011 (CFK’s landslide), the FPV was defeated by the opposition in Argentina’s five largest provinces/cities: Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe, CABA and Mendoza. In 2011, the FPV’s lists had topped the polls in all five of these provinces/cities, even the anti-Peronist stronghold of Buenos Aires (city). Given that these provinces elect 56% of the members of the lower house of Congress and are the country’s most populous provinces/cities, and that the elections in those provinces (especially BsAs and CABA) monopolize the bulk of media attention, the elections (like in 2009) have broadly been painted as a defeat for CFK and kirchnerismo, by domestic and international media alike. On the other hand, the FPV and its allies generally maintained the upper hand in the smaller, rural provinces which have long been reliably Peronist (with some local exceptions).

Since CFK’s landslide reelection in 2011 over a divided, hapless and demoralized second-tier opposition, some voters have soured on Kirchner and the government. High inflation (and the falsification of official statistics related to inflation), unpopular restrictions on the purchase of foreign currencies (US dollars, seen as a safer bet for savings than the peso), corruption, criminality, infrastructure problems, a widespread perception of kirchnerista arrogance and controversial reforms (judicial reform, media law) have all had an adverse impact on the government’s popularity. On the other hand, it must be pointed out that despite all this, kirchnerismo does retain a solid base in Argentine society. A number of voters credit the Kirchners (particularly CFK’s late husband) with the successful recovery from the 2001 catastrophe and, as such, no matter how unpopular they might get, some voters will remain reluctant to abandon ship given how the kirchernista decade began and how the country has improved since then. Secondly, while some opponents might style it as clientelism and asistencialismo, many poorer voters appreciate the social programs created by the Kirchners, notably CFK’s AUH. And regardless of the desirability of these programs, they have almost certainly played a huge role in reducing poverty in Argentina from the highs of the turn-of-the-century economic crisis.

The FPV is also slightly better organized or better entrenched in society than the disparate opposition forces. The FPV controls government, and as such it can put the government and its resources to its use, through clientelism, patronage or just the usual ‘goodies’ and policy changes (tax cuts followed the PASO in August). Public advertising is a good example of how the Kirchners have put public resources to partisan/electoral usage. Néstor Kirchner distributed public advertising on the basis of political affinity. In 2009, the government created the Fútbol para todos (football/soccer for all) program; the true intent of the program was not really to allow football-crazy Argentines access to all football matches on free TV, but perhaps rather to allow the government to gain control over the broadcasting of football matches on state-owned TV. Between 1991 and 2009, through an agreement with the football federation (AFA), Televisión Satelital Codificada (TSC), a joint-venture between Grupo Clarín and a sports communications firm, held exclusive rights over broadcasting of all football matches in the country. Taking advantage of an economic crisis hurting many Primera División clubs (and a spat between the AFA and TSC when AFA demanded more money from TSC), the government stepped in and signed an agreement with the AFA, breaking the agreement with TSC and giving the government the right to broadcast all Primera División matches (and second division matches in 2011, and third division matches in 2013) on the free, state-owned Canal 7/TV Pública. Above all, the creation of Fútbol para todos means that the government controls advertising during the program. Therefore, the apparently innocuous program has turned into a major political issue: some in the opposition argue that the program is a propaganda tool for the government, because the advertising is allegedly biased and partisan. In the 2013 campaign, FR candidate Mirta Tundis (an employee of the Grupo Clarín) said that she would like the program to be privatized (Massa took no position); her comment sparked controversy. The FPV jumped on the matter, accusing those who opposed the program of neoliberalism and subservience to monopolies and big corporate interests (eg Clarín).

The FPV can also count on some support within the CGT, from most of the barones del conurbano and now from the increasingly powerful La Cámpora. In contrast, the opposition – particularly the non-Peronist parties (except perhaps the UCR, but even then) – have little ties to powerful union bosses or local party bosses; further complicated that they’re always squabbling amongst themselves, so whatever resources they have are split between the different contenders.

A bit ignored by media coverage, the far-left forces (mostly the FIT) had a good election, with some very good (even double digit) results in some provinces and a total of three seats won.

Provincial results

Map of Argentine provinces (source:

Argentina is very much a federal country, this is especially true when it comes to parliamentary elections (and provincial-level elections, of course). In France, it is often said that the legislative elections are ‘577 local elections’ (577 constituencies) rather than a single national election; but nowhere is this phrase truer than in Argentina. Each province had different candidates, different party alliance and strategies and different local circumstances. Therefore, any analysis of Argentine legislative elections must be done at the provincial, rather than national, level. And provincial means, if we want to be accurate and thorough (as I do), all provinces – not only BsAs!

Note: you can find PASO results here.

In Buenos Aires, Sergio Massa’s FR handily defeated Martín Insaurralde’s FPV, 43.9% to 32.2%. In the PASO, the FR had won 35.1% and the FPV had won 29.7%. Therefore, although both the FR and the FPV increased their support from the PASO (the FR more so), the gap between Massa and Insaurralde widened, doubling from about 5% to nearly 12 points. Insaurralde’s result in the general was similar to Néstor Kirchner’s result at the helm of the FPV list in 2009 (32.18%), but Massa did much better than De Narváez had done in 2009 (34.7%). In a distant third place, Stolbizer’s FPCyS won 11.8%, marginally more than in the PASO (11.1%); in 2009, Stolbizer-Alfonsín’s ACyS list had won 21.5% of the vote.

The biggest loser from the primaries was Francisco de Narváez (FULT), whose support fell from 10.5% to 5.5%, benefiting Massa. Néstor Pitrola’s far-left FIT list won 5% (up from 4% in the PASO), winning one seat.

This result gives Massa 16 seats against 12 for the FPV, 4 for the FPCyS and two for De Narváez. Compared to the results of the PASO, the FR ‘gained’ two seats, both of them coming from De Narváez’s list.

The race was in good part decided in the conurbano bonaerense, where over 60% of the province’s population is concentrated. Compared to Kirchner’s defeat in 2009, Massa made major inroads in the conurbano, a largely working-class/low-income and industrialized hinterland where the FPV has traditionally been very dominant. Massa did best in his hometown of Tigre (65.5%), a socially mixed town north of Buenos Aires (the proliferation of new ‘Miami’-like gated communities with canals and mansions contrasts will villas miseria/shantytowns and older lower middle-class/blue-collar areas). He also did similarly well (62.2%) in San Fernando, located just north of Tigre (but outside the conurbano).

Massa’s alliance with several dissident Peronist barones del conurbano proved quite beneficial at the polls. Generally, the FR did best in those partidos (the BsAs name for municipalities) where the mayor supported him. For example, he won Malvinas Argentinas (a low-income industrial area) with 59.5%, he was supported by the powerful longtime mayor of Malvinas Argentinas, Jesús Cariglino (mayor since 1995). In Almirante Brown, governed by Massa’s second candidate Darío Giustozzi, Massa won 48.4% – his best result in the southern half of the conurbano. In General San Martín municipality, governed by another FPV dissident, Massa won 51.7%. Even outside the conurbano, the FR did best in partidos where the local mayor were backing Massa: for example, he won 53.4% in General Villegas and 49.7% in Ollavaría.

However, Massa even won partidos where the FPV mayors have remained loyal to kirchnerismo. He won working-class and lower-income municipalities such as José C. Paz (46.2%), Moreno (47.9%), Pilar (53.8%) and Tres de Febrero (49%) even if their mayors had not endorsed Massa. Therefore, Massa’s success was not only the product of using the clientelistic networks of pro-FR barones, it was also the result of an anti-K vote in FPV strongholds. Massa even won Morón (44%), supposedly the stronghold of Nuevo Encuentro‘s Martín Sabbatella (who was mayor until 2011). In the conurbano, Insaurralde only won La Matanza (43.8%), Florencio Varela (46.7%), Berazategui (43.5%) and his hometown of Lomas de Zamora (48%).

Massa also won the upper middle-class anti-K strongholds of Vicente López and San Isidro, with 49.9% and 57.5% respectively. The FPCyS, however, did well in Vicente López, placing second with 20.3% of the vote. By and large, however, the FPCyS did terribly in the rest of the conurbano (single digits).

In the city of Buenos Aires, the PRO – unlike in the PASO – topped the field over UNEN in the race for both the Chamber and the Senate. In the lower house contest, Sergio Bergman’s PRO list won 34.5% against 32.2% for Carrió-Lousteau’s UNEN list. The FPV, led by Juan Cabandié, placed a distant third with only 21.6%. In the PASO, the combined total of the UNEN lists had been 35.6%, against 27.5% for the PRO and 19% for the FPV. It is likely that some UNEN voters who had backed losing candidates in the PASO switched their support to the PRO or the FPV. In seat terms, the PRO and UNEN both took 5 seats while the FPV won 3 seats. The far-left FIT, led by Jorge Altamira, won 5.7% of the vote.

In the race for Senate, the PRO’s Gabriela Michetti won 39.3% against 27.7% for UNEN and 23.2% for Daniel Filmus’ FPV. In the PASO, again, the combined total of the UNEN (32%) had been marginally stronger than the PRO (31.4%). With the PRO and UNEN splitting the three senate seats, incumbent FPV senator Daniel Filmus will return to academic life at the end of his term. The PRO’s stronger performance in the senatorial contest certainly owes to the qualities of the candidates: Gabriela Michetti is a well-known politician in the city, having served as federal deputy since 2009 and deputy head of the government prior to that. On the other hand, rabbi Bergman is not as well known or prominent.

The PRO and UNEN both did best in the city’s middle-class and upper middle-class neighborhoods, while the FPV’s support remained concentrated in shantytowns and the lower-income neighborhoods in the southern end of the city (33.4% in commune 8 – Villa Soldati, Riachuelo and Lugano). The PRO’s best result (Chamber), 41.6%, came from commune 2, which includes the very affluent Recoleta neighborhood. It also did well in commune 13 (Belgrano, 38.9%), 13 (Palermo, 38.1%) and 1 (Puerto Madero, 36.7%). The UNEN performed well in almost all the same places as the PRO, but won low results in the low-income southern neighborhoods.

Half of the seats (30) in the city legislature were also up for reelection in Buenos Aires on election day. The PRO, with 33.6%, won 12 seats against 8 for UNEN (24.7%) and 6 for the FPV (17.1%). The far-left FIT won one seat, while the last two seats went to local parties I don’t know anything about. This gives the PRO a total of 28 seats, out of 60, in the city legislature.

In Córdoba, the Unión por Córdoba (UPC), a dissident Peronist local movement led by governor and local Peronist strongman José Manuel de la Sota (governor 1999-2007 and since 2011), won 26.5% and 3 seats. The UPC list was led by former governor Juan Schiaretti (2007-2011), a loyal delasotistaJosé Manuel de la Sota, like a lot of Peronist leaders in Córdoba (the country’s second largest province), has had a love-hate relationship with the Kirchners. In 2011, when CFK’s profile was up, De la Sota was seen as fairly close (or at least on good terms) with the Casa Rosada. However, he has since broken with the President and aligned himself with dissident Peronism once more (de la Sota also had ambivalent, love-hate relationships with past Peronist bigwigs such as Menem and Duhalde). The UPC’s result, despite placing first, was seen as a major setback for the governor (who might have presidential ambitions for 2015). The UPC’s support fell by nearly four points from the PASO, when two competing lists for the UPC had won a total of 30.1%. A narcotrafficking scandal involving the provincial police seems to have hurt the governor’s party; the dispersion of votes for mayor Martín Llaryora’s list in the PASO (22.3% of the UPC’s PASO votes) also appears to have hurt the party.

A UCR list (by itself), led by federal deputy and 2011 gubernatorial candidate Oscar Aguad, placed second 22.7% (more or less what it had won in the PASO) and 3 seats. The main winner, from the PASO, was the FPV list led by Carolina Scotto. The FPV list saw a significant increase in its support, from 10.9% in the PASO to 15.3% in the general election, giving them 2 seats.

The PRO list, led by former football referee Héctor Baldassi, won 14.5% and one seat, up from 12.1% in the PASO.

Aguad’s UCR list topped the poll in the city of Córdoba, where the Radicals (and anti-Peronist forces in general) have generally been rather strong. Schiaretti’s UPC placed third with 15% of the vote in the provincial capital, behind the PRO (16.6%) and the UCR (20.1%).

The major losers were Olga Riutort (De la Sota’s ex-wife), whose support fell from 6.8% to 4.6% since the PASO; and a FPCyS list (basically the PS and Senator Luis Juez’s personal party) which won only 3.7% of the vote. Luis Juez, a former mayor of Córdoba and incumbent senator, is a sworn enemy of the governor (they were allies until 2001, when Juez started accusing de la Sota of being corrupt, and broke completely in 2007, when Juez narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to Schiaretti, and cried fraud). The FPCyS’ terrible result is a huge setback to Juez, and might mark the end of his political career. Fortunately for him, the UPC’s mediocre result also throws cold water on De la Sota’s potential 2015 presidential ambitions.

In Santa Fe, former governor and 2011 presidential candidate Hermes Binner (PS), leading a broad FPCyS coalition with the UCR and CC-ARI, handily triumphed with 42.4% and won five seats. Miguel Torres del Sel (PRO), a former comedian who placed a close second in the 2011 gubernatorial election, placed second with 27.2% of the vote (3 seats), leading an alliance of the PRO with some dissident Peronist forces. The oficialista FPV list, led by former governor Jorge Obeid (2003-2007), placed a poor third with only 22.6% and 2 seats.

Santa Fe, governed by a Socialist-Radical alliance since 2007 (an alliance which Binner would like to replicate nationally), is something of an opposition stronghold where the FPV has never enjoyed uncontested political hegemony (far from it).

In Mendoza, the big winner was former governor (2003-2007) and CFK’s former Vice President Julio Cobos (UCR), whose Radical list won 47.7% (up from 44% in the PASO) and 3 seats. The FPV, which currently governs the state, suffered a very heavy defeat, winning only 27% of the vote and a single seat. The far-left FIT, with 14% of the vote – double what it won in the PASO – took the last seat. The local right-wing Democratic Party, in alliance with the PRO, won one of its worst result in decades, with only 5.2% of the vote (in 2009, for example, the PD-PRO list had won one seat with some 14% of the vote).

Cobos’ landslide opens the door to a presidential candidacy in 2015, perhaps in coalition with Hermes Binner’s Socialists. However, a lot of Radicals remain fairly suspicious and uneasy with Cobos, in good part because of his past trajectory as a ‘radical K’ and his (short-lived) alliance with kirchnerismo in 2007 (broken during the 2008 agricultural crisis, in which Vice President Cobos clearly sided with the opposition/ruralists). Even in his own state, Cobos will have to deal with internal opposition from rival Radicals – senator Ernesto Sanz, former governor Roberto Iglesias and Mendoza mayor Víctor Fayad – who have yet to digest Cobos’ past transgressions. In the PASO, Roberto Iglesias’ dissident list, the ‘Federal Party’, was soundly trounced (4.6%) and he was forced to announce his withdrawal.

Tucumán, the smallest province but the fifth most populous, was the largest province in which the FPV was victorious. The province is a kirchnerista stronghold (CFK won 65% in 2011). The FPV list, led by health minister Juan Luis Manzur, won 46.9% and two seats. An ACyS (UCR-PS-Libres del Sur etc) list won 34.7% and two seats. In third place, the Fuerza Republicana party of provincial legislator and former senator Ricardo Bussi, won 8.2% of the vote. Despite the FPV victory, the result is a setback for term-limited incumbent governor José Alperovich, given that the FPV had taken three seats against only one for the ACyS in 2009.

The FPV was also victorious in Entre Ríos, winning 46.6% and 3 seats against 23.4% and 1 seat for the Unión por Entre Ríos. The latter is a coalition of the PRO with a local party led by former PJ/dissident Peronist governor Jorge Busti (1987-1991, 1995-1999, 2003-2007) – the slate’s top candidate was incumbent federal deputy Cristina Cremer De Busti, Busti’s wife. Their top candidate for Senate was Alfredo de Angeli (PRO), a well-known agrarian leader (extremely critical of CFK) who stood out as one of the hardline ruralist leaders during the 2008 agricultural crisis.

A Radical list placed third with 21.1%, also winning one seat. In the race for Senate in the province, the overall results were similar: 46.2% for the FPV and 25.7% for Unión por Entre Ríos, giving oficialismo two seats against one seat for Alfredo de Angeli. The UCR won only 19.8% of the vote in the senatorial contest, marginalizing the party which had traditionally been fairly strong in the province.

The FPV’s triumph is good news for governor Sergio Uribarri (in office since 2007), who would fancy a presidential candidacy in 2015. Uribarri is very popular in the province, although CFK is perhaps less so.

The result in Salta was quite a mess. In the race for the Chamber of Deputies, the Frente Popular Salteño (a dissident Peronist/PRO alliance) won the most votes, 20.6%, and one seat. The Trotskyst Workers’ Party (PO) placed second, with 19.1% of the vote and one seat; the far-left even topped the poll in Salta, the provincial capital, with 28.4% of the vote. The kirchernista PJ list won 19% of the vote, closely followed by Salta Somos Todos (18.1%), a personal vehicle for 2011 gubernatorial candidate and outgoing federal deputy Alfredo Olmedo, a controversial ‘soy king’ and got some attention for his strong opposition to same-sex marriage. The kirchnerista Partido de la Victoria won 7.6% of the vote, in fifth place, while the conservative Partido Renovador de Salta (allied with the PJ-FPV, I believe) won 6%.

The senatorial contest was far more high profile in Salta, whose governor, Juan Manuel Urtubey (FPV), is another potential presidential candidate for 2015. The governor’s brother, Rodolfo Urtubey, topped the FPV’s senatorial list (with incumbent federal deputy Cristina Fiore Viñuales as his running mate). Former governor (1995-2007) and incumbent senator Juan Carlos Romero, a dissident Peronist and noted rival of the incumbent governor, ran for reelection at the helm of the helm of the Frente Popular Salteño list. The governor’s FPV list won 29.1% against 24.5% for Romero’s list; in 2007, Romero’s dissident PJ list had beaten the PJ-FPV list.

In Misiones, a kirchnerista stronghold (67% for CFK in 2011), the pro-Kirchner local Frente Renovador de la Concordia, formed by pro-Kirchner Peronists and dissident Radicals by former governor Carlos Rovira and the dominant party in provincial politics, remained the largest party with 43.3% of the vote and 2 seats. The UCR did fairly well, winning 26.7% and one seat. A dissident Peronist/PRO list led by former governor and incumbent federal deputy Ramón Puerta (1991-1999) won 14.6%, down almost ten points from the PASO when it had been a close third with 23%. An official FPV list won 11.2%.

In Santiago del Estero, an ultrakirchnerista province (82% for CFK in 2011!), another local pro-Kirchner party, the Frente Cívico por Santiago (FCS) was triumphant – with 76% of the vote, winning all three seats. The party was founded in 2004/2005 as some kind of local version of the UCR, led by Gerardo Zamora, a Radical whose victory in the 2005 gubernatorial election marked the end of a five-decade long dominance of local politics by the Peronist caudillo Carlos Antonio Juárez (his wife, elected governor in 2002, was removed from office by the federal government in 2004). Zamora was a ‘radical K’, and remained loyal to the Kirchners even after the 2008 crisis (which marked the end of ‘radicales K‘), transforming the FCS into a local version of the FPV. It has been absolutely dominant in provincial politics, often winning upwards of 70% of the vote (71% in the 2011 legislative elections, 85% for Zamora in the 2008 gubernatorial election). Zamora was due to win reelection to an (illegal) third term on October 27, but the courts delayed the election and blocked his candidacy (a new constitution adopted in 2005 limits the governor to two successive terms, but Zamora was originally elected under an old constitution, so he argued that the term limits could not yet apply to him). His wife will succeed him when the gubernatorial vote is held on December 1.

In a province used to caudillismo in its politics, the FCS has effectively replaced the old PJ Peronist elites which had dominated provincial politics since 1948 (except for the periods of military rule) under Carlos Antonio Juárez.

In the Senate race, the FCS effectively won all three seats: they ingeniously got around the electoral law by running a proxy list, the Frente Popular, led by provincial CGT leader and FCS provincial legislator Gerardo Montenegro, which placed second (28.5%) behind the FCS (48.3%). Zamora has, according to La Nación, decided to take a seat in the Senate – he featured on the FCS’ senatorial list as the lead suplente (replacement) candidate. Senator Emilio Rached, who broke with the FCS and realigned with the Radicals in 2008, led the FPCyS list, which won 14.1% of the vote in the senatorial contest.

In Chaco, another poor and rural Peronist/Kirchnerist province, the FPV handily won the races for the lower house and the upper house, winning 59% of the vote and 3 out of the 4 seats in the lower house and 60.6% in the senatorial contest. This is a strong result for term-limited governor Jorge Capitanich, an ally of the federal government who does not hide his presidential ambitions for 2015. On the other hand, the Unión por Chaco (basically a local FPCyS) did poorly, losing one seat in the lower house to the FPV (36.2% of the vote). In the PASO, the FPV and the centre-left had been more closely matched, 46.4% to 40.9%.

In Formosa, the poorest province in Argentina located in the remote north, the dominant FPV, led by governor and local strongman Gildo Insfrán (in office since 1995, with no term limits) triumphed with 60% against 36.7% for the Frente Amplio Formoseño (again, a local version of the FPCyS led by the UCR). The only silver lining for the Radicals here is that they did better than in 2011, when it won only 19%. With Governor Insfrán taking centre stage after the PASO, the FPV’s support increased from 53.6% since the PASO.

It was ‘3 to 0’ for the Radicals in Corrientes, who defeated the FPV for the third time this year after the PASO in August and a gubernatorial election in September. The province is rather poor and solidly kirchnerista in presidential politics (68% for CFK in 2011), but the UCR remains a dominant force in provincial politics – it is the last province to be governed by a Radical governor, Ricardo Colombi. The Encuentro por Corrientes (ECO) list, a broad alliance joining the UCR, centre-left (PS, CC-ARI, Libres del Sur), dissident Peronists and the centre-right PRO, won 47% and 2 seats against 42.7% for the FPV, which won one seat; this gap is smaller than that of the PASO, in which ECO’s four lists totaled 47.7% against 38.7% for the FPV’s three lists. A third list led by incumbent UCR senator Nito Artaza won 10.3%.

The results in Corrientes are a strong vote of confidence for UCR governor Ricardo Colombi, himself reelected in September with 50.9% of the vote. Colombi, who was elected governor in 2009 defeating his cousin, the erstwhile ‘radical K’ governor Arturo Colombi, in a closely disputed contest, has had a very tense relationship with the Casa Rosada – which did everything in its power to marginalize Colombi’s provincial government. The FPV suffered a major defeat in the September gubernatorial election when its candidate, Corrientes mayor Carlos Manuel Espínola, heavily promoted by the federal government, lost to Colombi with 45.8%. Ricardo Colombi had already won a personal triumph over his estranged cousin in the PASO, when the oficialista ECO list led by a provincial cabinet minister handily defeated a rival ECO list led by Arturo Colombi, which placed a poor third.

The results in the province of San Juan were heavily impacted by an helicopter crash on October 11 in which a federal deputy (running for reelection) was killed and the FPV governor, José Luis Gioja, badly injured. The FPV list, which had placed second in the PASO with 37.2% of the vote, saw its support skyrocket to 55.4%. On the other hand, the Compromiso Federal list – an alliance of dissident Peronists (presumably close to Rodríguez Sáa), maverick Radicals (the local UCR bloquista) and the PRO – won only 22.9%, down from 42.5% and first place in the PASO. In third place, Nancy Avelín, the daughter of late governor Alfredo Avelín (impeached in 2002), won 10.6% – the best result for the family’s party since her father’s impeachment.

The FPV suffered a damaging defeat in Jujuy, a poor northern province which gave 64% support to CFK two years ago. The Frente Jujeño, a Radical-Socialist alliance led by incumbent federal deputy Mario Fiad, won 40.2% against 38.9% for the FPV. In the PASO, the FPV list had won 32.8% to the Frente’s 31.1%. The Frente Primero Jujuy, a dissident Peronist list, saw its support fall considerably since the PASO, from 9.4% and third place to 5.2% and fourth place (behind the FIT, 7.2%). The FPV’s defeat in this Peronist stronghold is bad news for governor Eduardo Fellner, who had handily defeated the UCR’s Mario Fiad in 2011. The Radical victory emboldens Radical senator Gerardo Morales, who would like to contest the governorship in 2015.

In the race for the provincial legislature, a new party – Frente Unidos y Organizados por la Soberanía Popular – the political arm of the Peronist and indigenista asociación barrial Túpac Amaru led by Milagro Sala, won 13.6% and 4 seats, placing third.

In Río Negro, the FPV list, led by María Emilia Soria, the daughter of late governor Carlos Soria (FPV, 2011-2012, died on New Years 2012 after being killed by his wife), won easily with 50.8% – taking both of the seats up for grabs. She had been described as her later father’s ‘princess’, sheltered, protected and favoured over her brother. Her nomination irritated many old-timers, who saw her as an inexperienced and empty-suit dynastic candidate, but she was heavily backed by the powerful FPV senator Miguel Pichetto (who is also the FPV faction leader in the Senate). In the senatorial contest, Pichetto’s FPV list won 50% of the vote. The major loser in the province was the UCR, which had dominated provincial politics between 1983 and 2011. In the senatorial contest, former UCR (‘radical K’) governor Miguel Saiz (2003-2011) won only 15.9% of the vote, placing third and thereby conceding the third seat to an alliance between the PS and CC-ARI (26.3%). In the PASO, the UCR had placed second behind the FPV, with about 25% of the vote; the party had contested ‘internal primaries’, notably a battle for the senatorial nomination between Saiz (the eventual winner) and former governor and 1995 presidential candidate Hector Massaccesi (the ‘Robin Hood of Patagonia’, who had famously seized $17 million from a bank account belonging to the Central Bank). I wonder if potential post-primary bad blood might explain why the UCR’s support fell of by so much, to the benefit of the progressive alliance of the PS and CC-ARI (16.7% in the PASO, 25% in the general).

In Neuquén, a local party with a long history – the Movimiento Popular Neuquino (MPN) – remained the dominant force. The MPN was founded in 1961 by local Peronist caudillos, whose political activity was circumscribed by the proscription of Peronism after the 1955 coup. The MPN became a neo-Peronist party, promoting the idea of “Peronism without Perón”. The MPN became the dominant party in provincial politics as early as 1962, with the figure of Felipe Sapag, the leader of a politically and economically powerful local clan who served as governor five times (1963-1966, 1970-1972, 1973-1976, 1983-1987, 1995-1999). After 1991, the MPN has become torn between two factions, one led by the Sapag clan (Jorge Augusto Sapag, the nephew of Felipe Sapag, has been governor since 2007) and the other led by former governor and current party chairman Jorge Sobisch (1991-1995, 1999-2007). The MPN has traditionally been the strongest party in provincial politics, although the FPV won more votes than the MPN in the 2011 legislative elections.

The PASO had seen a very nasty fight within MPN ranks. The winning list was that of Guillermo Pereyra, the leader of the CGT oil workers’ union and a close ally of dissident CGT (anti-K) leader Hugo Moyano (I believe he was also supported by Sobisch, but I have seen contradictory information on that). Pereyra is very critical of Kirchner, governor Sapag and the YPF-Chevron deal. With about 56% of the votes cast for the MPN in the PASO, he easily defeated the oficialista list led by Vice Governor Ana Pechen, a close ally of governor Sapag, who is also fairly close to the Casa Rosada. In the PASO, the MPN’s two rival lists had totaled 54.5% (Chamber) and 58.2% (Senate) respectively. While the MPN still won the most votes on October 27, it only won 40.2% and 41.9% respectively, down quite considerably from the PASO. This is almost certainly as a result of the post-primary turmoil which saw governor Sapag refuse to endorse Pereyra (who had been very critical of Sapag) and indeed called on voters not to vote for the MPN. All parties benefited from the MPN’s poor showing in October, above all the FPV – which increased its results to 21.3% and 20.6% respectively (11.7% and 9% in the PASO). Placing second, the FPV won one seat in the Chamber (on the PASO’s results, the MPN would have won all 3 seats) and one in the Senate.

In third place, the Compromiso Cívico Neuquino (CCN) coalition, made up of Neuquén mayor Horacio Quiroga’s Nuevo Compromiso Neuquino and the Radicals, CC-ARI and PRO, won 11.5% of the vote. I believe that the list backed by Quiroga’s party, which is critical of CFK and opposes her potential reelection, won the PASO. The CCN had placed second behind the MPN in the senatorial contest during the PASO.

In the Patagonian province of Chubut, former governor and Duhalde’s 2011 running mate Mario Das Neves (dissident Peronist), running as the top candidate for the Partido de Acción Chubutense, easily defeated the FPV list with 52.7% of the vote to the FPV’s 23.2% – allowing Das Neves’ list to win both seats. Das Neves, who served as governor of Chubut between 2003 and 2011, was a very popular governor (reelected in 2007 with over 76%), something which allowed him to have serious presidential ambitions in 2011. However, his preferred candidate, Martín Buzzi (who has since joined the FPV and is now a kirchnerista), only won the 2011 gubernatorial election by a hair over the FPV (40.43% vs 40.28%) and Das Neves dropped out, becoming Duhalde’s running mate. In second place, the FPV, led by agriculture minister Norberto Yauhar, won 23.2%, a major setback for the federal governor and governor Martín Buzzi. Yahuar questioned Buzzi’s leadership following his defeat.

Another former governor was victorious in Catamarca. The Frente Cívico y Social list (UCR-PS-PRO), led by former UCR governor Eduardo Brizuela del Moral (2003-2011) narrowly defeated the FPV list, 40% to 38.7% – taking 2 seats against the FPV’s one. Eduardo Brizuela del Moral, first elected in 2003, was another ‘radical K’, being reelected in 2007 with the FPV’s support against the arch-corrupt Luis Barrionuevo, a dissident Peronist CGT leader. However, when he broke with CFK in 2008, his Vice Governor, Lucía Corpacci (the cousin of the old Peronist caudillo Ramón Saadi), broke with his government and she ran against him in the 2011 gubernatorial election. Brizuela del Moral was widely expected to win a third term, but he surprisingly lost to Corpacci, the FPV’s candidate, 49.5% to 45.6%. This year’s victory is a major setback for governor Corpacci and a major victory for Brizuela del Moral, who might want to run for governor in 2015. In third place, the corrupt and gangsterish Luis Barrionuevo’s dissident Peronist list won 18.8%.

As usual, in San Luis, the Rodríguez Saá brothers’ Compromiso Federal (dissident Peronism) easily won, with 53.9% of the vote against 23.6% for the FPCyS and 17.9% for the FPV. However, the result is nevertheless a small setback for the Rodríguez Saá clan and their party, which lost one seat (from 2009), conceding it to the Radicals (FPCyS).

In the province of La Rioja, best known as being Carlos Menem’s native province (Menem is still a senator for the province), the FPV – which had lost the PASO – narrowly defeated the Fuerza Cívica Riojana (UCR/PS/CC-ARI) alliance, 47.1% to 46.5%. The FPV list, led by provincial cabinet minister Teresita Madera and backed by Governor Luis Beder (who defeated Menem in 2007), had placed second in the PASO with 37.8% – the first defeat for Peronism in the province since 1983. Yet, despite finally narrowly defeating the Radical list, the FPV has little to cheer about with the results. They placed first with less than 1,000 votes separating them from second, and the poor showing complicates the governor’s intention to amend the constitution to allow him a third term in office. In third place, the Frente Nuevo Pacto Federal, led by dissident Peronist (ex-FPV) federal deputy Jorge Yoma (the brother of Zulema Yoma, Carlos Menem’s ex-wife turned enemy), placed a distant third with 2.9%, down from 10.2% in the PASO.

The elections in the province of La Pampa were won, narrowly and with a mediocre result, by a pro-Kirchner PJ list led by former provincial cabinet minister Gustavo Fernández Mendía. In the PASO, Fernández Mendía, who had the support of the Casa Rosada and the kirchnerista governor, Oscar Jorge, narrowly defeated (43.7% vs 35.6% of the PJ’s votes) an anti-kirchnerista list backed by former Peronist governors Rubén Marín (1991-2003, senator until 2009) and Carlos Verna (2003-2007, now senator) and led by Rubén Marín’s son Espartaco (‘Taco’). Marín and Verna, former rivals (Verna has been anti-K since 2003, when he won with Menem’s backing, Marín’s shift only dates from 2008) turned allies of circumstances, had opposed the formation of a FPV coalition in the province, much to displeasure of CFK and Governor Jorge. In the general election, the PJ list won only 35.2% against 34.4% for the Frepam (Frente Pampeano Cívico y Social, the local Radical-led alliance with the PS), led by the former UCR mayor of Santa Rosa Francisco Torroba. In the PASO, the PJ’s lists had totaled 50% of the vote against 31.8% for the Frepam. Seemingly, the closely fought primarily battle between the kircheristas-jorgistas and marinistas-vernistas left some scars, even if Taco Marín got the third place on the final PJ list. The main winner of the general election was the Frente Propuesta Federal, a PRO-led alliance headed by Carlos “el Colorado” Mac Allister, a former football player (he notably played for the Boca Juniors in the 1990s, when the club was owned by Mauricio Macri). In the PASO, backed by the PRO and ‘intransigent’ supporters of Carlos Verna who did not want to back Rubén Marín, he had won 9.9%. On October 27, he won 19.3% and won one seat for himself.

The PJ’s mediocre result is a poor result for the Casa Rosada and for the governor, who is fairly isolated within his own party against the two local caudillos. Furthermore, the UCR’s strong result makes them – and their new federal deputy – strong contenders for the provincial governorship in 2015, in a province governed by the PJ since 1983. Before that, however, Torroba will likely need to deal with the opposition of UCR Senator Juan Carlos Marina, who did not support his list in the PASO.

The opposition, led by Radical businessman and incumbent federal deputy Eduardo Costa, triumphed in the southern Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, a symbolic province for the Casa Rosada given that it was Néstor Kirchner’s native province and political breeding ground (he served as governor between 1991 and 2003 before becoming President). Costa’s list, the Unión para Vivir Mejor (formed by the UCR, a local party and the CC-ARI – whose local leader is Costa’s wife), placed first with 42.1% and two seats. The oficialista FPV list, led by provincial legislator and local La Cámpora boss Mauricio Gómez Bull, ranked second with 24.7% and one seat. The main loser of the election was governor Daniel Peralta, a former ally of the Kirchners who broke with the Casa Rosada last year when he was alleged to have spied on CFK at her family residence in the province. The PJ list, led by provincial cabinet minister Nieves Beroiza, placed third with only 20% of the vote and fell short of a seat. Peralta’s only motive for satisfaction was that

While the UCR’s result is unquestionably good news for Eduardo Costa, who has his eyes set for a third (third time the charm?) run at the governorship in 2015, his list saw its result fall a bit from 44.5% in the PASO, where he had successfully held back a dissident Radical list led by Facundo Prades, a young ‘renovador‘ critical of Costa’s allegedly autocratic and ‘business-like’ leadership of the local UCR.

Finally, in Tierra del Fuego, the FPV list led local La Cámpora leader Martín Alejandro Pérez won the top spot, with 27.3% of the vote, splitting the southernmost province’s two seats in the Chamber of Deputies with the Movimiento Solidario Popular (MSP) taking the other seat with 21.2%. The pro-Kirchner MSP is led by Oscar Martínez, the longtime boss of the CGT metalworkers unions, who was not selected for the FPV list by local FPV leader Rosana Bertone. In third place, the local Movimiento Popular Fueguino (Mopof) won 17.1%, with the endorsement of governor Fabiana Ríos (in office since 2007, ex-ARI), whose small party finds itself isolated and moribund (it didn’t run in this year’s election). The Unión Federal, an alliance of dissident Peronists (led by incumbent federal deputy Liliana Fadul), backers of CGT leader Hugo Moyano and the PRO, placed fourth with 10.3%. The Partido Popular, a pro-K slate led by incumbent senator and former governor Jorge Colazo won 9.5% of the vote. For some reason, the PJ (dissident Peronists), who had a contested primary in August, saw their vote fall from 9.7% in the PASO to only 3.6% in October.

The senatorial contest was more hotly contested. The FPV senatorial list, led by incumbent federal deputy and 2011 gubernatorial candidate (narrowly defeated by Ríos) Rosana Bertone, won 34.4%. Her strong results places her as the early favourite to win the governorship in 2015, when isolated governor Ríos is term-limited. The minority mandate went to incumbent federal deputy Jorge Garramuño (Mopof), who won 22.4% of the vote. Garramuño supported some government initiatives in the past, although he attracted controversy when he admitted that he had backed a deal with Iran in return for government funding for his province. Incumbent senator and former governor Jorge Colazo (2004-2005, impeached) lost reelection, with his Partido Popular placing third with 15.1%. Incumbent federal deputy Liliana Fadul, running for the dissident Peronist Unión Federal, won only 13.8% and fourth place.


Midterm elections in Argentina serve as mood indicators for the federal and provincial governments, and as early tests for potential presidential and gubernatorial candidates in the main elections, held two years later. In this sense, these midterm elections are particularly important because the 2015 elections will probably be highly contested. Lacking a two-thirds majority for constitutional changes and in a more fragile position after these generally mediocre midterms, President CFK is unlikely to be able to amend the constitution to run for an unprecedented third term in office. Her husband’s death in 2010 badly messed up the former presidential power couple’s alleged plan to circumvent term limits by alternating in power (Néstor Kirchner would probably have run for President in 2011 had he not died). However, with her husband dead, CFK and kirchnerismo now finds itself lacking any clear favourite for the presidency in 2015. That being said, we should not write kirchnerismo‘s obituaries just yet – CFK was weakened and considered as dead on arrival in any presidential race after the 2009 midterm elections, but seizing on the division and haplessness of the opposition, she roared back to win a phenomenal landslide in 2011.

As noted above, a number of FPV governors in the provinces have open presidential ambitions and a few others would probably like to at least be running mates on a kirchnerista ticket in 2015. The most likely oficialista candidate for 2015 is BsAs governor Daniel Scioli, who was also Néstor Kirchner’s Vice President. Scioli is more conservative and a ‘traditionalist Peronist’ rather than a kirchnerista, and his relations with the Casa Rosada and the kirchnerista milieu (notably La Cámpora) have been cooler as of late (Scioli described himself as a fellow traveler rather than kirchnerista). However, Scioli might find himself weakened by the FPV’s heavy defeat at the hands of Sergio Massa in BsAs. Other potential oficialista candidates include provincial governors such as Jorge Capitanich (Chaco), Sergio Uribarri (Entre Ríos) and José Manuel Urtubey (Salta), all of whom appear to be ‘respectable conservatives’ similar to Scioli.

Meanwhile, Sergio Massa has undoubtedly emerged from these midterms as the main winner and he is now seen as dissident Peronism’s rising star and potential 2015 candidate. It is rather obvious that Massa’s political ambitions do not stop at provincial boundaries and that he is seriously considering a presidential candidacy in 2015. The ragtag Peronist opponents of kirchnerismo might at long last have found their star in Massa, a presentable, respectable and charismatic politician whose priority is winning power rather than ideological coherence and who is able to appeal to a diverse crowd using an inoffensive, ‘reformist’ and non-confrontational discourse. A lot of Peronist leaders, including some soft supporters of the FPV and kirchnerismo, are interested in backing the winning horse (governor Urtubey, for example, has good relations with both Massa and Scioli). Massa might be their guy.

Massa’s first priority will be to build up a national profile and form alliances with provincial caudillos – a must for any serious presidential candidate, especially within Peronism. Massa has already successfully attracted the public support of some provincial leaders, including Chubut’s Mario Das Neves, former governor Jorge Busti (Entre Ríos); these two men’s supporters in Congress will grow the FR’s base. In May, before the PASO, a number of dissident Peronist leaders including Córdoba governor José Manuel de la Sota, anti-K CGT leader Hugo Moyano, Francisco de Narváez and Roberto Lavagna (who later backed Massa), signed a deal to form a common opposition front in 2015. De la Sota, who might have presidential ambitions but who is unlikely to go far in a presidential campaign, might ultimately join Massa (especially as the UPC’s poor result in Córdoba means that he will likely focus on the gubernatorial office in 2015 rather than the presidency). Massa was also in talks with Santa Fe senator and former F1 driver Carlos Reutemann, a dissident Peronist leader who might back Massa in the Senate.

Outside the Peronist family, the centre-right and the centre-left opposition parties are all placing their top leaders as potential presidential candidates. On the centre-right, Mauricio Macri (PRO) seems quite determined to run for President (unlike in 2011), despite a tactical alliance with Massa in BsAs (where the PRO by itself is weak). Macri had a good election in Buenos Aires, but his party might be increasingly divided as he lacks a clear favourite succeed him as head of government in Buenos Aires when he retires in 2015. Macri is unlikely to perform well in a nationwide presidential election, firstly because his brand of politics (widely seen as neoliberal) is unpopular in Argentina since the 2001 crisis and because he lacks a strong network of alliances in other provinces. The PRO by itself remains very much a porteño party, with its limited bases in other provinces (Santa Fe, now Córdoba, La Pampa and Entre Ríos) being largely dependent on famous celebrity candidates. He has already made some alliances with dissident Peronist leaders in other provinces, but these Peronist caudillos might be more interested in supporting Massa in 2015. The UCR, PS and minor left-wing parties are all rather strongly opposed to the idea of an alliance with Macri’s PRO.

The centre-left, largely made up of the Radicals and the Socialists (they are the only two parties in the FPCyS coalition which have a national reach), would like to run a common candidate in 2015. However, they will first need to figure out their differences and find a single candidate. Afterwards, they will need to try to form a coalition which includes some of the smaller centre-left forces such as Stolbizer’s GEN, Victoria Donda’s movement or Elisa Carrió’s potentially rejuvenated CC-ARI; would these parties be willing to support a Radical presidential candidate, especially an old politico like Julio Cobos. Former Vice President Julio Cobos, who won a landslide for the UCR in Mendoza, and former Governor and 2011 contender Hermes Binner, whose Socialist-Radical alliance won by a big margin in Santa Fe, were both strengthened by the midterms. Binner and Cobos are both clearly interested by the presidency, although it is likely that only one of them will actually make it all the way to the finish line in 2015. Could either stomach losing to the other in a potential primary/PASO? It is well known that Argentine politicians hate losing more than anything.

I hope this post helped you understand the confusing, but secretly so fascinating, world of Argentine politics a bit better. Latin American politics will headline this blog in November, with Chilean elections next week (November 17) and Honduran elections at the end of the month. Before Chile, however, I might take a detour through the world of Quebec municipal politics (November 3 municipal elections).

Czech Republic 2013

Legislative elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 25-26, 2013. All 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna), the lower house of the Czech Parliament (Parlamentu České republiky), were up for reelection. All members are elected to serve four-year terms by closed party-list proportional representation (d’Hondt, 5% national threshold for single parties, higher for coalitions) in fourteen multi-member constituencies corresponding to the Czech Republic’s 14 administrative regions (including Prague).

The Chamber of Deputies is, by far, the most powerful house in the country’s bicameral legislature. The Senate (Senát), which is composed of 81 senators elected to six-year terms (single-member constituencies, two round system), renewed by thirds every other year, is a toothless body. It can only delay the passage of legislation, because the lower house can override any veto with an absolute majority (101 deputies). As such, control of the Senate is rather irrelevant; the main opposition party has had an absolute majority on its own since 2010.

The Czech paradox: Parliamentary or semi-presidential?

The Czech Republic is, in theory, a parliamentary republic with the President confined to a more symbolic, less political role – while still holding some significant constitutional powers in his own right. For example, the President can veto legislation (which can be overriden with an absolute majority of the lower house), appoint judges, dissolve the Chamber of Deputies under certain conditions and appoint the Prime Minister; on other matters, the President may only exercise his authority with the consent of the Prime Minister.

However, in practice, the President is a rather powerful figure in Czech politics. Governments have tended to be weak or led by weaker men, while the presidency has attracted three powerful figures who all managed to assume a more prominent role in daily politics than the constitution would let us suppose. The first President, Václav Havel (1993-2003) commanded a good deal of moral authority because of his prestige as a leading dissident under communist rule. His successor, Václav Klaus (2003-2013), was outspoken and controversial, famous for his Eurosceptic views and skepticism of man-made climate change. Since a constitutional reform in 2012, the Czech President, previously elected by a convoluted process by both houses of Parliament, is now elected directly by the people. The direct election of the President confers greater legitimacy and authority to the presidency, given that the President may now claim to hold his mandate and legitimacy directly from voters.

Former Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed old politico, won the first direct presidential election in January 2013. Zeman, reputed to be something of an autocrat who dislikes parliamentary democracy, clearly envisions a much stronger presidency which directly intervenes in the working of the parliamentary government. As such, Zeman has been at the heart of the political crisis which led to the early dissolution of Parliament.

Background: Czech political history since 1990

Running somewhat counter to the recent trends seen in other ex-Eastern Bloc states (Poland, Bulgaria, some Baltic states, Hungary etc) pointing towards greater political and partisan stability, the Czech Republic’s political system has grown more unstable in the past few years.

The broad based pro-democracy Civic Forum, which had led the Czech Republic towards liberal democracy, split up as soon as it had lost its raison-d’être. The conservative and free market wing of the movement, led by Václav Klaus, created the Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS), which became – by the 1992 elections – the leading right-wing party in the country (and the largest party altogether). Václav Klaus served as Prime Minister between 1992 and 1998, governing in coalition with smaller centre-right parties. Similar to other right-wing governments in former communist states across the region, Klaus’ government focused on structural reforms, including privatization of state enterprises, and the development of strong ties with western Europe and the United States. His government fell due to financial scandals and an economic downturn, and the ODS lost the 1998 and 2002 elections to the Social Democrats.

The Czech Social Democratic Party (Česká strana sociálně demokratická, ČSSD), which re-emerged following the fall of communism, was originally founded within the Austrian socialist party in 1878 and became an independent party in 1893. The ČSSD was a member of the five-party coalition which governed Czechoslovakia during the First Republic. Its cooperation with bourgeois parties led to a painful split in 1921 and the creation of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, who won over 10% in the 1925, 1929 and 1935 elections (placing ahead of the ČSSD in 1925). It was reborn after the fall of communism and established itself as the main centre-left force in 1996 (26.4%, vs. 29.6% for the ODS). Unlike most social democratic parties in Eastern Europe, the Czech Social Democrats are not descended from the ruling communist party from the Cold War years.

The ČSSD, led by Miloš Zeman, won the 1998 elections. Lacking an absolute majority or potential coalition partners, Miloš Zeman formed a minority government and signed an “Opposition Agreement” (opoziční smlouva) with ODS leader Václav Klaus. The ODS recognized Zeman’s right to form a government and pledged not to introduce confidence motions against the government (effectively giving it confidence and supply); in return, the government would consult the ODS on major policy initiatives and ODS politicians would be named to public offices – Klaus became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The opposition agreement shocked voters after a bitter campaign between both major parties, and soon met organized opposition from other parties, intellectuals and students. Both parties agreed to change the electoral law to make it more favourable to larger parties and a close ally of Klaus, Jiří Hodač, was named to head the public broadcaster, ČT. Employees of the TV network, supported by President Havel and a movement of intellectuals and students, protested against the nomination.

The opposition agreement marked an important moment in Czech political culture: it is often identified as the date when the political elite, from the ODS and ČSSD, agreed to share the spoils, betraying the voters, and when high-level corruption and collusion between big business and politicians was firmly entrenched in the political system. Corruption is an endemic issue in Czech politics, one which every successive government has struggled to deal with.

Zeman’s government laid the groundwork for the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU and NATO (2004 and 1999 respectively), but otherwise his tenure was largely unremarkable and the opposition agreement had a deleterious effect on the ČSSD in midterm senatorial and regional elections in 2000. In the 2002 elections, both the ODS and ČSSD saw their share of the vote fall somewhat, benefiting the Communists and a centrist coalition. This time, the ČSSD formed a coalition with two centrist/centre-right parties. Zeman was replaced as Prime Minister by Vladimír Špidla, whose two-year tenure was marked by coalition dissensions and attempts to reduce the country’s growing public debt. The ČSSD was crushed in the 2004 European elections, winning only single digits, and Špidla resigned.

His successor, Stanislav Gross, remained in office for less than a year before he was forced to resign following a financial scandal. He was replaced by Jiří Paroubek, who led the party into the June 2006 elections. From the lows of 2004-2005, Paroubek, helped by strong economic growth, managed to significantly improve the ČSSD’s support. The 2006 campaign was extremely acrimonious and dirty; Paroubek ran a scare campaign warning of the destruction of social services and a threat to democracy equivalent to February 1948 (the Communist coup) if the ODS won, while ODS leader Mirek Topolánek attacked the ČSSD on corruption scandals and refused to shake his opponent’s hands in the debate, saying he did not respect it. It even came to blows – an ODS adviser to the President, Miroslav Macek, slapped the ČSSD health minister, David Rath in the face because Rath had said that Macek had married his wife for the money.

In this polarized context, both the ODS and ČSSD performed well in the 2006 election – both parties increased their vote share from 2002, the ODS gaining some 11 points and winning 35.4%, the ČSSD gaining about 2 points and winning 32.3%. The net result was deadlock: the ODS and its potential allies – the centre-right and the Greens – held exactly 100 seats, the ČSSD and the Communists held the other 100 seats. The ČSSD would not work with the Communists, so ODS leader Mirek Topolánek was the favourite to become Prime Minister, but the process lasted over six months, until January 2007. He attempted to recreate an ‘opposition agreement’ with Paroubek but failed to do so. He was appointed to form a government in September 2006, and formed a minority government composed of the ODS and independents. In October, however, the Chamber refused confidence, 99 votes to 96. In January 2007, Klaus reluctantly agreed to appoint Topolánek as Prime Minister, this time with a coalition made up of the ODS, the centre-right (KDU-ČSL) and the Greens. Topolánek was able to receive the confidence of the Chamber, with two rogue ČSSD members leaving the Chamber and another abstaining, allowing Topolánek to win 100-97, with one abstention.

Topolánek’s main achievement during his term in office was a major fiscal reform. His government, as the ODS had promised in the campaign, scrapped the progressive income tax (12% to 32% rates) and introduced a 15% flat tax on personal incomes. This major public finance reform also gradually reduced the corporate tax rate from 24% to 19%, increased personal tax credits, increased the reduced rate of VAT from 5% to 9%, introduced environmental taxation, reduced social security benefits and introduced user fees in healthcare. Topolánek was also a strong supporter of the US missile defense system, and was fairly critical of the EU.

His government fell on a confidence vote in March 2009, with two ODS rebels and two Green dissidents joining the left-wing parties in voting against Topolánek’s cabinet, which fell 101 votes to 96. This opened a political crisis, compounded by the fact the the country was presiding the EU for six months. There was talk of snap elections in the fall of 2009, but the ODS and ČSSD, along with the Greens and KDU-ČSL, agreed to a transitional cabinet led by the head of the statistical office, Jan Fischer. Fischer’s technocratic cabinet included ministers nominated by the two major parties and the Greens.

Elections were finally held in May 2010 proved disastrous for both the ODS and ČSSD. The ODS’ campaign was severely disturbed when its top candidate, Topolánek, was forced to resign in April 2010 after an interview he gave to a gay magazine in which he said that gays and Jews lacked moral character (but the Jews more so), accused the churches of brainwashing people and berated ČSSD voters. This was not the first controversy for Topolánek, a fairly brash character: in the spring of 2009, photos showing up sunbathing naked at Silvio Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa were seized and in the summer of 2009 he held shady meetings with Czech lobbyists and industrialists in Tuscany. Topolánek was replaced by Petr Nečas, the vice-chairman of the ODS who had served as deputy Prime Minister in Topolánek’s governments. The opposition ČSSD (still led by Paroubek), had performed very well in the 2008 regional and senatorial elections, but they ran a terrible campaign. Paroubek boycotted two newspapers and three magazines which he accused of inciting hatred by its ties to right-wing parties. The right’s campaign on fiscal responsibility and reducing indebtedness struck a chord, as did fears that the country was “the next Greece”.

The ČSSD and ODS saw their support collapse, winning 22.1% and 20.2% respectively. The main winners this time were new parties, which ate into the ODS (and ČSSD)’s support. TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV), two new centre-right parties, won 16.7% and 10.9% respectively. Commanding a right-wing majority, Petr Nečas was able to form a cabinet rather quickly, with the support of TOP 09 and VV. On strict party lines, he won confidence with 118 votes to 82.

The other forces

Until 2010, the other relevant parties included the Communists and a plethora of parties on the centre-right.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM) is another Czech oddity in the former Eastern Bloc. No non-Soviet former Eastern Bloc state has retained a strong, electorally viable unreconstructed communist parties. In other countries, the majority of the former communist party went on to form the basis of contemporary centre-left parties and one-time communist party members joined parties all across the board. This has also been the case in the Czech Republic: a number of older politicians on both the left and right began their careers in the KSČ or its ‘allied parties’. The KSČ split in 1989, with the Czech branch being refounded in March 1990 as the KSČM (the Slovak Communist Party effectively died out). Czech Communists, broadly conservative, aimed at perpetuating the traditional party identity rather than redefining themselves as some kind of new, plural left.

The KSČM remains an ‘unreconstructed’ communist party which has not moved towards democratic socialism or eurocommunism. In the first years, anti-revionists managed to overwhelm moderates/’revisionists’ who favoured an evolution to democratic socialism. The new leadership was anti-revisionist, but not completely Stalinist – they did criticize the “inadequacies” of the pre-1989 regime, and did not advocate for a return to the pre-1989 regime (unlike a small handful of hardliners). Yet, for most of the 1990s, the KSČM was very much a pariah, systematically excluded from decision-making and political activities by the other parties.

The KSČM, much to the chagrin of the other parties, did not die out with the fall of communism. Instead, it has remained a strong force, with the most stable electorate of any Czech party. Since 1990, its supports has floated between 10% and 20%; it has never won less than 10% of the vote in a parliamentary election and usually wins between 11% and 14% of the vote, with a peak at 18.5% in 2002. In the 2012 regional elections, the KSČM placed second with 20.3% and topped the poll in two regions.

The ČSSD, in the 1995 Bohumíně resolution, stated that it would not cooperate with ‘extremist’ parties, including the KSČM. Since then, the ČSSD’s attitude towards the KSČM has shifted. Presidents Václav Havel and Václav Klaus both refused to appoint any Prime Minister and government which would be supported by the Communists; for example in 2004, Klaus demanded that Stanislav Gross submit a list of 101 non-Communist MPs who would back his government before appointing him.

In 2005, KSČM leader Miroslav Grebeníček was replaced by Vojtěch Filip, the party’s current leader. Filip has continued to adhere by the traditional party line, but his election was seen as an attempt to sanitize the party’s image and a greater openness to working with the ČSSD. Successive ČSSD leaders have refused to form a national governing coalition with the KSČM, but the party is more willing to accept the potential of forming a minority government with Communist support. Former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek (2005-2006), repeatedly stated that he would not form a coalition with the Communists but his government was able to pass laws with Communist support. At the regional level, the ČSSD rules in coalition with the KSČM in 10 out of 13 regions; the KSČM even holds a regional presidency since 2012.

Although the ‘cordon sanitaire’ of sorts which isolated the KSČM is slowly being broken, the party remains very controversial. Although there is, in practice, nothing very revolutionary about a party whose average members’ age is 70, they retain a tendency to say fairly inconvenient things – nostalgia for “the good old days” (pre-1989) or sending condolences to North Korea on Kim Jong-Il’s death. Their youth organization was banned between 2006 and 2010 for advocating a violent revolution, and there have been repeated calls to ban the KSČM. Public opinion remains, in majority, hostile towards the party and there is a strong anti-communist movement.

In between the ODS and the ČSSD, a number of political parties have tried to form some kind of centrist/centre-right alternative to the two major parties and play the role of kingmakers.

The most successful of such parties, historically, has been the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (Křesťanská a demokratická unie – Československá strana lidová, KDU-ČSL), which is a continuation of the ČSL, a clerical Catholic party which existed during the interwar years. In that period, the party, as the representative of the predominantly Moravian ‘clerical Catholic’ camp in Czechoslovak politics, was a member of almost every government coalition. It was allowed to operate after World War II, but after 1948 the Communists turned the ČSL into a puppet party, member of their ‘National Front’; but many members opposed communist rule. With two exceptions, the KDU-ČSL’s support since 1990 has ranged between 6% and 8%, providing them with a small but important caucus in Parliament. Between 1992 and 1997, the party supported ODS Prime Minister Václav Klaus.

Following the opposition agreement in 1998, the KDU-ČSL teamed up with three other parties, all of them on the centre-right, to form an anti-opposition agreement coalition, styled the Čtyřkoalice (Quad or Coalition of Four). The Čtyřkoalice also included the Civic Democratic Assembly (ODA), which left in 2002, and the liberal Freedom Union (ODS dissidents)/Democratic Union – who merged in 2001. The Čtyřkoalice enjoyed brief success; they won the 2000 senatorial elections (16/27 seats; giving them a majority of seats overall!) and placed second in the 2000 regional elections with 22.9%. But the ODA feuded with other parties and eventually disappeared, and the coalition itself dissolved. In the 2002 legislative elections, the centrist coalition of the KDU-ČSL and the US-DEU (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) won 14.2% of the vote.

The KDU-ČSL and US-DEU governed in coalition with the ČSSD until 2005, but the relation was uneasy. The KDU-ČSL forced Stanislav Gross to resign after the financial scandal, and Paroubek often turned to the Communists for parliamentary backing for his laws. Indeed, in 2003, Miroslav Kalousek, on the right of the party, became leader of the KDU-ČSL and did not hide his preference for participation in a right-wing coalition. Which is what they did after the 2006 election – the KDU-ČSL joined Topolánek’s ill-fated cabinet. The experience badly hurt the KDU-ČSL: Kalousek stepped down as party leader in 2006, his successor was forced to step down in 2009 following a number of scandals and the party’s leftward shift under Cyril Svoboda after 2009 was controversial.

In June 2009, Kalousek left the party and founded TOP 09 (Tradice, Odpovědnost, Prosperita 09), which attracted dissidents from the KDU-ČSL and ODS. Because Kalousek is a fairly unpopular and slimy politician implicated in numerous scandals, TOP 09 has made everybody believe that it is actually led by Karel Schwarzenberg, a colourful and popular prince, who had been elected to the Senate in 2004 and was nominated by the Greens as foreign minister in Topolánek’s second cabinet (2007-2009). TOP 09, boosted by Schwarzenberg and alliances with local groupings, won 16.7% in the 2010 election and became the second largest member of Petr Nečas’ cabinet, with Schwarzenberg returning as foreign minister and Kalousek serving as finance minister. Ideologically, TOP 09 is pro-European – unlike the ODS – but shares the ODS’ very right-wing views on economic and fiscal questions. TOP 09 seeks to reduce the size of government, cuts regulations, balance the budget and promote private enterprise.

Karel Schwarzenberg remains the party’s most popular public figure. He ran in the 2013 presidential election, placing second and losing the runoff to Zeman with 45.2% of the vote.

In the meantime, the KDU-ČSL performed disastrously in the 2010 election, winning 4.4% and losing all seats. The party, however, regrouped and returned to its normal levels of support in 2010 and 2012.

The 2010 election also saw the rise of Public Affairs (Věci veřejné, VV), an anti-corruption platform which emerged, beginning in 2001, from Prague local politics. In 2009, VV recruited popular investigative journalist Radek John as its leader, and his popularity – combined with growing anti-establishment sentiments and dissatisfaction with the political system – allowed VV to come out from nowhere to win about 11% of the vote in the 2010 election. At the time, little was known about what VV was, who it was and what it stood for.

2010-2013: the destruction of the party system

Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two.

The government, to reduce the deficit and public debt, quickly introduced very unpopular austerity policies which included spending cuts, cutting public investments and tax increases.

The government adopted a major overdue pension reform in late 2012, which came into force in January 2013, which created a three-pillar system in which individuals may redirect 3% of their contribution, which in the past went into the state fund, into private pension funds. Opting to do so would increase an employee’s wage deductions by 2%, from 6.5% to 8.5%, and participants would not be able to change their minds later. The existing third pillar, which were voluntary privately-managed (with state contribution) supplementary schemes, will continue to exist but no longer accept participants. In parallel, a new type of third pillar voluntary supplementary fund with state contribution will be created. It was a tough reform to pass, meeting opposition from the left but also hostility from President Klaus.

The government faced a backbench revolt in November 2012 from its intentions to increase the VAT by 1%, increasing the base rate from 20% to 21% and the reduced rate from 14% to 15%. The government also modified the flat tax by adding a 22% tax rate on high incomes. The effect of the government’s austerity policies has been negative for the economy. While the country’s debt is under control and the deficit is hovering over or under the EU’s 3% limit (3.3% in 2011, 4.4% in 2012, 2.9% in 2013; down from 5.8% in 2009); austerity has decreased public demand and led to a double-dip recession: the GDP shrunk by 4.7% in 2009, and while it grew by +1.9% in 2011, the country was in recession in 2012 (-1.3%) and will likely be in recession again in 2013 (-0.4%).

The government was forced to backtrack on a controversial reform of post-secondary education in 2012. Originally, the government had sought to introduce tuition fees (up to 20,000 CZK), reduce student power in university decision-making and strengthen private sector stakeholders in governance of post-secondary institutions. There were student protests in 2011, and in June 2012 a new higher education minister, Petr Fiala, shelved the plans to engage in dialogue.

The government also dealt with the contentious issue of church restitution – compensating churches for the loss of lands and real property seized by the communist regime and financial compensations. Under the law passed in November 2012, the state will return land, real estate and legal property to churches, religious communities and legal persons – valued at 75 billion CZK. Privately-owned land or state-owned land used for military purposes or as national parks will not be returned. In addition, churches will receive a total of 59 billion CZK in financial compensation, 47.2 billion CZK of which will go to the Catholic Church. The bill was criticized by the opposition and VV, and faced constitutional challenges.

Besides presenting itself as a government of fiscal responsibility, the incoming government also promised to crack down on corruption. Nečas was originally known as ‘Mr. Clean’, and VV leader Radek John was named Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the fight against corruption.

Little was known of VV when it performed well in the 2010 elections, but it soon turned out that the whole ‘anti-corruption’ image was a sham and that the party reeked of corruption. The party – and the government – faced its first crisis in April 2011, when a number of VV MPs admitted, after the magazine Respekt had leaked details, that they had received substantial bribes from VV’s unofficial leader and transport minister Vit Bárta, in exchange for their loyalty and silence. Bárta resigned from cabinet a few days later and Nečas shuffled his cabinet, with Radek John stepping down as interior minister to focus solely on the ‘anti-corruption’ portfolio. In May, John resigned from cabinet, citing disagreements with Nečas.

VV’s troubles did not end there. In the spring of 2011, again, questions were raised about the source of the party’s financing – with suspicions of money laundering, illegal money and proceeds from the sale of shares. Again in April 2011, the newspaper Mladá fronta DNES published documents from 2008 in which Vit Bárta, who was then the owner of a shady security comapny (ABL), detailed his plans to use VV as a front to advance the economic interests of the company – basically put, a political party as part of a broader for-profit business plan. Other VV leaders were also tied to private businesses.

Later in 2011, education minister Josef Dobeš (VV) appointed controversial political activist Ladislav Bátora, suspected of ties to anti-Semitic and neo-fascist organizations, to a senior position in the ministry of education. The appointment met strong opposition from academics, but also disturbed members of the ODS and TOP 09. Karel Schwarzenberg and Bátora got into an heated shouting match, which created another crisis in cabinet. Bátora was forced to resign in October 2011.

In the fall of 2011, two cabinet ministers were forced to resign as a result of corruption scandals. The Minister of Industry and Trade, Martin Kocourek (ODS), resigned in November 2011 after he was unable to explain the origin of 16 million CZK in his mother’s bank account. In December 2011, the Minister of Culture, Jiří Besser (STAN/TOP 09) resigned after failing to declare that he owned an apartment in Florida and that a close associate had been sentenced for corruption.

In April 2012, Vit Bárta was sentenced by a Prague district court to 18 months imprisonment for bribery (later overturned on appeal). Despite his sentencing, however, Bárta announced that he would remain in Parliament and continue his political career. This led to an internal crisis in VV, with Karolína Peake, the Deputy Prime Minister, left the party along with two other cabinet ministers and four other VV MPs. Peake founded a new party, LIDEM (LIDEM – liberální demokraté), which remained in the government. The Prime Minister asked for a vote of confidence at the end of the month, which he carried with a much reduced majority of 105 MPs against 93. In January 2013, LIDEM came close to leaving the coalition after Nečas fired Peake from her defense portfolio, but it soon abandoned those plans.

In June 2012, Nečas dismissed the Minister of Justice, Jiří Pospíšil (ODS). Many speculated that the real reason behind Pospíšil’s sacking was that he intended to appoint the tough anti-corruption lawyer Lenka Bradáčová as chief public prosecutor in Prague (she was later appointed anyways).

Other corruption scandals involving members of the governing parties also hurt the government’s image. In the October 2012 regional and senatorial elections, worn down by the economy and its terrible record on corruption, the ODS suffered monumental loses – winning only 12.3% of the vote in the regional elections and losing no less than 10 seats in the Senate.

All of these scandals, however, were little in comparison to the massive scandal which brought down the Prime Minister and the government, leading to a political crisis.

The political crisis

On June 13, 2013, police raided the government offices and arrested nine people, eight of whom were charged. Those arrested included Jana Nagyová, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and alleged mistress, the former and current heads of the Military Intelligence Service, three former ODS MPs and a former deputy minister. Nagyová was held on two separate counts.

In the first case, Nagyová is accussed of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife Radka Nečasová, for ‘purely private’ reasons. Nagyová was, according to prosecutors, hoping to convince Nečas to divorce his wife, whom she suspected of having an affair.

In the second case, she is accussed of bribing three former ODS MPs (Ivan Fuksa, Marek Šnajdr and Petr Tluchoř) with lucrative posts in public offices in exchange for their resignation (and replacement by loyal foot soldiers) to save the government in the confidence vote on the VAT hike last fall. The government managed to survive the vote with the resignation of these three MPs (two of the other six backbench rebels backed down, and one quit the party). Petr Nečas was involved in the deal-making.

The whole police op and cases are quite bizarre. Many expressed their surprise at the organization of the police raid, notably asking why the authorities had finally cracked down on corruption which has been around for decades. On the second case, political horse-trading of this kind is hardly unheard of in the Czech Republic (and elsewhere), and Nečas originally defended himself by saying that it was just the usual political deal-making.

The raid was part of a broader investigation which aimed to pin down powerful businessmen and lobbyists suspected of scheming to gain control of state-owned firms. Police seized millions of dollars in cash and ten kgs of gold during the raid.

Public tolerance for corruption is increasingly low, and politicians are feeling voters’ pressures. Nečas’ governments did take a few baby steps towards fixing some of the most egregerious issues in the political system, notably removing life-long immunity from criminal prosecution for all MPs, who nevertheless enjoy immunity while in office.

Petr Nečas originally indicated that he would try to weather the scandal and remain in office, but by June 16, he was forced to announce his resignation. Since then, Nečas married Nagyová in September – perhaps because the law prevents courts from forcing spouses to testify against one another.

In stepped President Miloš Zeman. The news of Nečas’ resignation was welcomed by the president, who had even promised his voters that he would topple Nečas’ government. With Nečas out of the picture, the power of appointing a new Prime Minister fell into the President’s hands. The President has no constitutional obligation to appoint a Prime Minister on the basis of parties or parliament’s recommendation until two of his nominees have been rejected by Parliament. However, in practice, past Presidents have followed the advice of party leaders in choosing Prime Ministers.

The ODS, TOP 09 and LIDEM recommended that Zeman appoint the ODS president of the Chamber of Deputies, Miroslava Němcová. Němcová had the backing of the three former coalition partners and the ODS claimed that it had a list of 101 MPs who would support her in a vote of confidence. The opposition ČSSD, KSČM and VV wanted to dissolve Parliament and hold snap elections. Zeman had his own ideas.

On June 25, Zeman appointed Jiří Rusnok, an economist who had served as a finance minister when Zeman was Prime Minister and who, like Zeman, had quit the ČSSD. Rusnok’s cabinet consisted of independents and close allies of the President. Rusnok/Zeman’s pick for the finance ministry was none other than Jan Fischer, who had run (and lost) in the presidential election earlier this year and had endorsed Zeman in the runoff at the last minute. Fischer had been unable to repay his campaign expenditures, until he received 5.3 million CZK from businessmen before his nomination.

It was clear fairly early that Rusnok was unlikely to receive the support of the Chamber, but it was all part of an ingenious plan by Zeman to increase his political influence. After his nominee is rejected by the Chamber, the President has the appoint a second candidate; but he is under no obligation to do so within a set timeframe. In the meantime, the outgoing cabinet continues to govern on a day-to-day basis as a caretaker government. For example, Zeman was able to use his new presidential cabinet to clear diplomatic appointments which had been blocked by Schwarzenberg beforehand. He named Livia Klausová, the wife of former President Klaus (who endorsed Zeman), as ambassador to Slovakia and Vladimír Remek, Czechoslovakia’s only astronaut and KSČM MEP as ambassador to Russia. Rusnok’s government also dismissed 60 senior bureaucrats from office.

Zeman’s move infuriated the right-wing parties, who were able to defeat Rusnok’s government in the Chamber on August 7. Rusnok’s government received the support of 93 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, VV), while 100 voted against it (ODS, TOP 09, LIDEM). On August 20, 140 MPs (ČSSD, KSČM, TOP 09, VV) voted in favour of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies, more than the three-fifths majority required by the constitution to dissolve the lower house. The ODS did not participate in the vote. Zeman was unfavourable to the organization of snap elections, preferring to hold them alongside next year’s European elections in May 2014.

Parties and issues: the old timers

The ČSSD led the polls – often by huge margins – for basically the duration of the legislature’s term, and was the runaway favourite to win the elections; and probably with a strong result – above its 2010 result – and in a strong position to form a minority government with the KSČM’s support.

The past three years, however, have not been without hitches for the ČSSD. Former Prime Minister and ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek resigned following the 2010 election but in November 2011 he left the party and created his own party, LEV 21-National Socialists (LEV 21 – Národní socialisté). The name ‘national socialist’ in Czech politics refers to the nationalist socialist tradition of the First Republic, it has nothing to do with Nazism (but the use of the term never stops to amuse foreign observers!). The Czech national socialist movement was a patriotic and Czech nationalist splitoff from the socialist/labour movement, influenced by the local Hussite tradition. It was supported largely by intellectuals (Edvard Beneš), civil servants and the lower middle-class. Paroubek’s movement never gained steam, however, and LEV 21 did terribly in the 2012 elections.

Since 2010, the ČSSD has been led by Bohuslav Sobotka, who was finance minister between 2002 and 2006.

In May 2012, the ČSSD faced a far more serious problem when David Rath, a former health minister (who got slapped) and then-governor of Central Bohemia, was arrested for accepting bribes and taking kickbacks. The ČSSD’ support in polls collapsed and the party won only a Pyrrhic victory in the 2012 elections, winning 23.6% – down 12.3% from the 2008 regional elections (a ČSSD landslide).

Like in 2010, the ČSSD’s platform was fairly left-wing. It promised to reinstate the progressive income tax, raise taxes on high incomes (top tax rate at 38%), increasing corporate taxes (from 19% to 21%; 30% for banks, energy companies and phone operators), a 40% increase in the minimum wage (from 8,500 CZK to 12,000 CZK [€480]), increasing social benefits (sick day benefits, benefits for second and third child), repealing the pension reform, guarantee access to healthcare for all, lower the prices paid for prescription drugs and improve education. It also pledged to renegotiate the church restitution agreement, to reduce the amount paid.

That platform, however, was overshadowed by a very public civil war raging inside the party, a conflict sowed by Zeman. Party leader Bohuslav Sobotka, 2013 presidential candidate Jiří Dienstbier Jr and Lubomír Zaorálek are from the party’s liberal wing (supportive of environmental protection, civil liberties), which is also the anti-Zeman wing. The ČSSD’s deputy leader, Michal Hašek (who is also governor of South Moravia) or former labour minister Zdeněk Škromach represent a conservative and pro-Zeman wing. Sobotka has faced strong internal opposition, and he is backed by only a thin majority of his party – at the party congress in March, Sobotka was reelected with only 85 out of 151 votes (56%). During the campaign, some regional delegates unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. In early September, some ČSSD members – including the mayor of Ostrava, the third largest city, protested their exclusion from the list of candidates.

The ODS entered the campaign in an even worse shape: the party is facing a huge internal crisis and popular support for the party is at an all-time low. The ODS’ 12.3% in the 2012 regional elections was not, as I thought back then, the bottom for them: after Nečas’ resignation, the party’s support collapsed below 10%. The ODS was discredited in voters eyes because of the poor economic record, the corruption scandal, the clientelism within the party and internal turmoil. Some members wanted former President Václav Klaus to return, while some of Klaus’ supporters founded a party in the hope of attracting him as their leader (he did not run). With Nečas facing trial, the ODS is now led by interim leader Martin Kuba and vice-chair Miroslava Němcová.

TOP 09’s support declined consistently between 2010 and 2012, and it won only 6.6% in the 2012 regional elections. However, the party received a major boost in the polls with Schwarzenberg’s presidential candidacy (and his strong first round result), briefly throwing them back up over 15%. TOP 09 also benefited from the ODS’ collapse to take leadership of the right (surpassed the ODS in polls). The party ran a strongly anti-Zeman campaign, arguing that they were the only party who defended the parliamentary system and would stand up to Zeman and the threat of authoritarianism. Kalousek argued that Zeman wants to establish an autocratic regime. On other issues, TOP 09’s platform was pro-European – it wants Prague to ratify the European Fiscal Compact, which the Czech Republic did not ratify in 2012. The party also wants to limit the budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP.

As always, Schwarzenberg was the public leader and mascot of TOP 09 in this campaign. TOP 09 has been trying to promote him with young voters, beginning with the “punk Karel” image during the presidential campaign, and now with other pretty shameless bids to build up up their mascot’s image with younger voters.

The KSČM has been performing well in polls since 2011, polling in the 15-20% range. As noted above, the Communists placed second overall in the October 2012 regional elections, with over 20% of the vote, and the KSČM formed regional governing coalitions with the ČSSD in 10 of 13 regions. While the party remains committed, on paper, to the creation of a socialist state, the party’s platform was nothing too crazy: anti-corruption, quality education, job creation, a 14,000 CZK minimum wage, a gradual return to pre-2007 VAT rates (19%/5%), a progressive income and corporate tax, a referendum on church restitution, a minimum pension, public health insurance and sustainable development. Its more contentious policies remain on foreign policy: the Communists want to withdraw from NATO and mention abolishing NATO as a long-term goal; they are also anti-EU.

As a result of their exclusion from governance, the KSČM has not been in power and as a result it hasn’t been involved in any major corruption scandals. As such, the KSČM can claim, with some credibility, to be a ‘clean hands’ party and benefits from the governing parties’ involvement in corruption scandals.

The KDU-ČSL, which lost all its seats in 2010, performed slightly better in elections in 2010 and 2012. The party’s leader is Pavel Bělobrádek, a fairly young guy who has never served in Parliament in the past. Its platform mostly consisted of pablum such as strengthening the economy, job creation, increasing child benefits, fiscal responsibility, ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption and opposing the privatization of healthcare.

SPOZ campaign poster: “I give my vote to Zeman. And you?” (source:

The Party of Civic Rights-Zemanovci (Strana Práv Občanů – Zemanovci, SPOZ) is President Zeman’s party, which he founded when he left the ČSSD in 2009. SPOZ won 4.3% of the votes in 2010, coming very close to winning seats in Palriament. It has basically functioned as personal vehicle for Zeman, although the party’s support is much lower than Zeman’s personal support as the presidential election revealed. Zeman, ironically, made a pledge not to interfere in party politics when he was elected earlier this year, but Zeman still controls the party although he naturally didn’t run in this election.

Three ministers from Rusnok’s cabinet ran for the SPOZ, as did the controversial lobbyist and Zeman’s close associate Miroslav Šlouf.

Of lesser relevance is the Green Party (Strana zelených, SZ), founded in 1989 and which enjoyed brief electoral success in 2006 when it won 6 seats. The Czech Greens have tended to be more liberal and centrist/centre-right than most other European green parties: while their positions on environmental issues are seen as left-wing in the country, they have more right-wing positions on other issues (reducing the tax burden and labour costs, deregulation of rents, user fees in healthcare). After all, the Greens governed in coalition with the right between 2006 and 2009.

After their success in 2006, the Greens found themselves, once again, torn apart by internal conflict between their right and left wings. This led to their defeat in 2010, when the Greens won only 2.4% of the vote. Now led by Ondřej Liška, the Greens have shifted to the left with more anti-nuclear rhetoric or opposition to austerity. Former Green leader and former environment minister Martin Bursík left SZ earlier this year and founded his own green liberal party.

The newcomers

One of the factors which has changed the Czech party system in recent years has been the rapid emergence of new political parties, most of them vaguely populist and anti-corruption movements centered around a charismatic figure. VV filled that role in 2010. In this election, there were two new major populist movements: ANO 2011 and Úsvit.

ANO 2011 – ‘Ano’ meaning yes but also standing as an abbreviation for “Action of dissatisfied citizens” – was founded in 2012 by Andrej Babiš, a Czech businessman of Slovak origin who is also the second richest man in the Czech Republic.

Andrej Babiš, who was born in Bratislava (Slovakia) in 1954, worked for a foreign trade company owned by the Communist Party in Morocco during the communist regime before becoming the managing director of Agrofert in 1993. Agrofert is one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic (its assets are valued at 96.2 billion CZK, it employs some 28,000 employees and owns 1.6% of all agricultural land in the country. It is a major holding company which controls various agricultural , food processing and chemical companies. Babiš himself has a net worth of $2 billion.

Babiš claims he started his party when he “got angry” and bought newspaper ads to mobilize people against corruption and government mismanagement. Originally claiming he only wanted to sponsor ANO at first, he later took control of the party himself and promptly expelled rebels who later claimed Babiš was behaving like a dictator and running the party as his personal business project. Since then, Babiš has apparently been more careful at accepting members and candidates (promoting celebrities).

ANO campaign poster: “We are not politicians, we work” with Andrej Babiš and journalist Martin Komárek (source:

In June 2013, Agrofert bought MAFRA, the largest Czech media group which owns two popular daily newspapers (Mladá fronta DNESLidové noviny), three TV stations and two radio stations. Babiš’ expansion into the media led to concerns that he was becoming the “Czech Silvio Berlusconi”. There are some similarities with Silvio Berlusconi, particularly Berlusconi’s entrance into politics in 1993-1994. Like Berlusconi, Babiš has come into politics from a lucrative career in business and based his political appeal on a right-wing populist rejection of the established party system and its corrupt ways (although both are certainly corrupt themselves). Unlike Berlusconi, however, Babiš lacked a media empire and control of the airwaves.

Late in the campaign, two archived documents from the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance surfaced and alleged that Babiš was a collaborator and later an agent in the communist secret police (StB). On October 18, a Slovak newspaper published a document apparently corroborating Babiš’ secret police ties. Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) called Babiš a communist informer, while Babiš has flatly denied all accussations saying he never signed an agent contract in Bratislava in 1982 and has sued the Slovak Institute of National Remembrance. In any case, what is certain is that Babiš was a member of the KSČ before 1989 – membership in the party was necessary to be part of the management of a state-owned company

Not much is known about ANO’s stances on the issues. It is anti-corruption, anti-establishment and most of its campaign has either been based on rejection of politicians or the idea that the Czech Republic should be run like a business. As such, it is a fairly right-wing party. Its platform also claims that the state is not “a good manager” and fails at providing services. Its other planks are rather vague: employing more graduates, seniors and disabled persons; fighting tax evasion; transparency; reforming government procurement and bidding; reducing the VAT; investments in infrastructure and simple rules for investors and business. Its anti-corruption proposal seem fairly straightforward on paper: abolishing parliamentary immunity and forcing elected officials to electronically publish their assets when they take office.

Tomio Okamura’s Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit přímé demokracie Tomia Okamury), often referred to as Úsvit, is the other new populist party. Úsvit was founded in 2013 by Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese businessman/entrepreneur and senator.

Okamura, who is 41, was born in Japan to a Japanese father and a Czech (Moravian) mother and moved to Czechoslovakia when he was six, although he worked for nine years of his youth in Japan. Okamura made his money in the hospitality/travel industry, notably serving as vice-president of the Czech association of travel agencies. He also served as director of a major travel agency in Prague and owned shares in various hospitality or travel businesses. Okamura is something of an eccentric and idiosyncratic businessman; some of his past ventures have included a travel agency for stuffed animals and a clothing store selling fashion for Czech women who wanted to dress like young Japanese schoolgirls. Okamura also developed a strong presence in the media, as a spokesman for the travel industry, a co-author of two books (one of which was a best seller) and as a star on the Czech version of Dragon’s Den.

Okamura entered politics last year, when he ran for Senate as an independent candidate in Zlín. He won 30.3% in the first round and easily defeated a ČSSD candidate in the runoff with 66% of the vote. Around the same time, he announced a presidential candidacy and submitted over 61,000 signatures from citizens (50,000 were required to run), but was disqualified when only 35.7k signatures were cleared – the court determined that a lot of his signatures were fictitious. His countless appeals and melodramatic protests were unsuccessful. In May 2013, he created his own party.

Okamura’s ideology is even vaguer than ANO. He has praised communism and socialism, but others have also called his movement “proto-fascist”. As the party’s names indicates, the party’s main issue is the promotion of direct democracy and a radical change in the political system. The party’s platform calls for the use of referenda and initiatives along the Swiss model; the direct election of deputies (presumably FPTP), mayors and governors; the possibility to recall elected officials and a presidential system. His economic and fiscal proposals are clearly right-wing: a ‘cost-effective public sector’, reducing the VAT, a moratorium on tax changes for 3 years, supporting entrepreneurs and business owners to create jobs, opposition to affirmative action/positive discrimination and balanced budgets. Úsvit takes a very tough line against “a layer of people who do not like to work, do not know the words obligation and responsibility and terrorize neighborhoods with crime”. It blames the social system for supporting these people while ‘bullying’ and ‘humiliating’ “law-abiding citizens who find themselves in need”. As such, it wants to limit social benefits to these responsible people who lead a “decent life” and “raise their children properly”. The movement is also critical of the EU and immigration.

Okamura ran into some trouble over the summer when he said that the ‘gypsies’ should be “democratically” sent to India (the ‘land of their ancestors’) to create their own state, like Israel. He couched this controversial statement in the language of the right to self-determination. He also said, in that same interviews, that the Roma are to blame if they face discrimination and racism, it is primarily their own fault. Groups representing the Roma people have called Okamura racist and far-right/neo-fascist.

Naturally, Úsvit is – on paper – very much anti-corruption and the platform is filled with populist outrage over corrupt politicians, corruption and mismanagement. That stuff rings a bit hollow, however, when you consider that VV, now led by the arch-corrupt Vit Bárta, allied with Okamura. Vit Bárta was Úsvit’s top candidate in Plzeň region.

Úsvit is a very wide coalition: besides the remnants of VV, it also includes ODS and other parties’ dissidents, anti-government demonstrators and the regionalist Moravané (Moravians). Okamura, who is of Moravian descent, has proclaimed his Moravian identity a few times and played up his Moravian cultural roots (by wearing Moravian folk costumes, for example).


Turnout was 59.48%, down from 62.6% in 2010. This is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since 2002, when turnout had crashed to only 58% from 74% in 1998. This is fairly significant: the 2002 election was another high point of anti-system sentiments four years after the ‘opposition agreement’ and the first signs that politics were turning into a dirty, corrupt game limited to a closed circle of political elites and their friends and financiers in big business and lobbying firms. Turnout increased in the 2006 election (64.5%), a more polarized contest with a clear-cut division between Paroubek’s ČSSD and the ODS, but it fell to 62.6% in the last election.

Turnout has been even lower in recent ‘lower stakes’ election at the regional level or for the Senate: turnout in the 2012 regional elections was 36.9%, down from 40% in 2008.

ČSSD 20.45% (-1.63%) winning 50 seats (-6)
ANO 2011 18.65% (+18.65%) winning 47 seats (+47)
KSČM 14.91% (+3.64%) winning 33 seats (+7)
TOP 09 11.99% (-4.71%) winning 26 seats (-15)
ODS 7.72% (-12.5%) winning 16 seats (-37)
Úsvit 6.88% (+6.88%) winning 14 seats (+14)
KDU-ČSL 6.78% (+2.39%) winning 14 seats (+14)
Greens 3.19% (+0.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.66% (+1.86%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Party of Free Citizens 2.46% (+1.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SPOZ 1.51% (-2.82%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DSSS 0.86% (-0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.81% (-3.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Czech Republic 2013 - Parl

The Czech elections reflected, far and above anything else, voters’ deep-seated dissatisfaction (and outright anger) with with the political system, which is associated with corruption, mismanagement and a poor economy. While the ČSSD won the most votes, their result was unexpectedly terrible – very much a Pyrrhic victory for them, the second in a row after the 2010 election. Instead, the main winners of this election were new populist parties – and the main losers were the two old parties, the ČSSD and especially the ODS.

Czech politics are in a long-term crisis. Since 2002, almost every Prime Minister from either of the major parties have had their own corruption scandals. A number of senior politicians in all the major parties have also been involved in corruption scandal. It is common knowledge that politicians have close relations with businessmen and lobbyists (if they are not businessmen themselves), and that they more often than not govern to please these powerful interests who return the favour by providing their campaigns and parties with hefty financial support. Politicians and corrupt senior bureaucrats are said to take their share of money from the bidding in government contracts. Voters, to put it simply, no longer trust the established political parties and the politicians. This is not a recent development, but the past three years have very much reinforced these sentiments: widespread corruption at the highest levels, corrupt politicians in the public spotlight all topped off with an economic crisis, unpopular austerity and cuts to social programs.

The ČSSD has more or less managed to lose two elections in which they had been the runaway favourites for a long period of time beforehand. In 2010, the ČSSD did poorly (22% of the vote) and was unable to form a centre-left government despite having won large victories over the centre-right in the 2008 regional elections. This year, the ČSSD had a sizable lead in polls dating back to early 2011 and even during the campaign, the ČSSD was generally between 24% and 28% in the (notoriously unreliable) polls. At any rate, the ČSSD expected to win somewhere close to 70 or so seats, which would allow it to form a minority government with KSČM support – a sentiment which was shared by most observers at the time. Even during the campaign, even if the ČSSD and KSČM saw their support fall during the course of the campaign, a ČSSD minority government was still seen as the most likely outcome. After the fact, the ČSSD and KSČM won only 83 seats (101 required for a majority), due entirely to the ČSSD’s terrible result.

The ČSSD ran a poor campaign in which its internal squabbles overshadowed its platform or any appeal it might have had as the main alternative to the right. The publicized internal crisis in the party reinforced widespread perceptions that party politicians are self-serving and self-interested committed to their personal well-being and comfort rather than the national interest. The ČSSD was also a victim of the political mood, which is disdainful of the established major parties and totally fed up with the political system. The ČSSD has also been hurt by corruption, even if it has been in opposition nationally since 2006, and few voters likely associate ČSSD with major change or renewal.

The ČSSD and ODS, which have dominated Czech politics for almost two decades, won only 28.17% of the vote together. In 2010, by no means a good year for either parties, they had still won 42.3%. In 2006, a polarized contest, they won over two-thirds of the vote to themselves. These numbers, again, speak for themselves. The total collapse of the two traditional parties reflects record-high dissatisfaction with the political system and the old parties.

Most upheaval, however, took place on the right. The main winners were new right-wing populist parties: Andrej Babiš’ ANO 2011 placed second with a remarkable 18.7% of the vote, while Tomio Okamura’s Úsvit managed a respectable 6.9%, just a bit below the showing of the hitherto dominant right-wing party, ODS. Together, these two new populist parties on the right won 25.53%, which is more than the combined sum of TOP 09 and ODS (19.71%) or that of the ‘winning’ party (ČSSD with 20.5%).

ODS campaign poster: “Vote for the right” in Twitterverse (source:

The ODS was the major loser of this election. To put its defeat into context and to emphasize what this all means: only seven years ago, the ODS won 35% of the vote and although it won a paltry 20% in 2010, it nevertheless retained its dominance of the Czech right. The party had the bad luck of being the ones who got caught with their paws in the cookie jar (a lot of parties often put their paws in the cookie jar, of course) when everybody was watching. The ODS, however, was hardly in better shape before the Nagyová scandal destroyed the party. In the regional elections a year ago, they won only 12% of the vote and the ODS’ no-name candidate won like 2% of the vote in the presidential election in January. Prior to the scandal, the ODS had already been hit by other corruption scandals and it was closely tied to Petr Nečas’ unpopular government – seen as ineffective on corruption issues and behind unpopular austerity measures and the bad economy. The Nagyová scandal not only ruined whatever reputation it still had left, but also left the party without much leadership. The ODS’ low-key campaign in this election consisted of running away from its brand. Its main billboard ads, for example, consisted of a horrible Twitter slogan: “#Volím_pravici” (vote for the right), including, yes, the hashtags and underscore. The billboards didn’t even include the ODS’ logo, although they did include the Twitter logo!

TOP 09 had somewhat better luck. Although it too saw its support decline fairly significantly since the last election, winning only 12% of the vote compared to 16.7% in 2010. However, the party has managed to establish itself as the main ‘traditional’ party on the right, ahead of the ODS. The party was likely held in large part thanks to Karel Schwarzenberg’s personal popularity and the publicity his presidential campaign, even if ultimately unsuccessful, attracted for the party – especially with younger voters.

ANO 2011, the main winner of this election, owes its success to widespread disillusionment with the political class, a well-financed and well-run campaign and a generic, vague anti-corruption platform of the same kind which had carried VV to relative success in the last election. After all, in large part ANO 2011 ran on the idea that they were not politicians – but businessmen, journalists and other celebrities or regular citizens – who “worked” and could do a better job running the country than the politicians. Apparently, the concerns over Babiš’ behaviour during communist rule or his very vague platform largely copied from other parties with the addition of generic anti-corruption and anti-tax stances, did not rattle its potential supporters much.

Voters expressed that they are fed up with politics, corruption and the poor economy. Czech sculptor David Černý conveyed his country’s visceral anger towards the political class when he installed a large purple sculpture of a hand pointing the middle finger on a barge in the Vltava River in Prague overlooking the presidential residence, the Prague Castle.

The KSČM did fairly well, although perhaps not as well as it might have expected. It did not break its 2002 record (18.5% of the vote) or its 2012 regional result (20%). The party, which is an attractive protest option for some voters on the left who are not repelled by the party’s baggage, likely gained some votes from dissatisfied left-wing voters. There isn’t much to say about the KSČM in the end: foreign observers always tend to express shock at KSČM successes at the polls or over-dramatize its meaning, when in the end this is a party which has done similarly well in the past (2000, 2002, 2004) and which can be counted on to perform well whenever the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (2000/2002: opposition agreement, 2004: unpopular ČSSD government in power, 2012: ČSSD’s weak performance in opposition and recently hurt by David Rath’s corruption scandal). Its success in this election owes to similar factors. Some media reports noted that the KSČM had been somewhat successful in attracting younger voters to the fold; voters so burnt out by the corruption and the decrepit political class that they were willing to give the KSČM a chance.

Higher turnout than in the 2012 regional elections, in which the Communists had done very well, may also explain the party’s weaker result in this election. The party has an old, stable, motivated and loyal base of supporters who increase the party’s share of the vote in lower-turnout elections (such as regional elections). Indeed, the KSČM won far more votes in this election (741,044) than in 2012 (538,953) although less than in 2002.

The KDU-ČSL, not noticed by many, managed to reenter the Chamber some three years after it lost all its seats in a disastrous election. The party likely picked up some former ODS voters. While the party is not very strong, the KDU-ČSL – like the Communists – have managed to survive because they have strong infrastructure at the grassroots level; the party, like the Communists, have a very large number of members (although, again, a lot of them are old and inactive in party activities) and it has retained a strong electoral base at all levels of government in Moravia.

One surprise in this election was SPOZ’ poor performance. President Zeman’s personality appreciation machine not only failed to enter Parliament, it won significantly less votes than it had in 2010 (4.3%). After Zeman’s election earlier this year, SPOZ’ support in the polls increased, often over the 5% threshold, and many predicted that they would have a good chance of winning seats in this election. As such, this is a surprising rebuke for President Zeman, who will not have the luxury of having his own personal vehicle represented in Parliament.

Hlavu vzhůru, a list endorsed by former President Václav Klaus, won only 0.42% of the vote. The neo-Nazi and anti-Roma Workers’ Party (DSSS) did poorly, winning only 0.9% of the vote (they had won 1.1% in 2010).

Electoral geography

Here is an excellent map of the results down the very micro municipal (district in Prague) level, with the ability to generate individual maps for the major parties and compare to results of past elections since 1996.

Czech Republic 2013 - Parl mun

Results of the Czech elections by municipality

What is quite striking, although not necessarily all that surprising, is the extent to which ANO 2011’s support patterns coincides with the traditional geographic base of the right (ODS, ODS+TOP 09 in 2010) in the past elections. With one, however, significant exception: ANO 2011 performed relatively poorly in Prague, the traditional bastion of the right. It won 16.5% of the vote in the national capital, below its national average. Within the city, the party’s support was lowest in the wealthier districts of the city centre: 11.8% in Prague-1, the prestigious Medieval old town. TOP 09 topped the poll in Prague with 23% of the vote, by far its best result. It did best in the city’s most affluent districts.

This link provides correlation graphs between the parties in Prague, as well as a great map of results by precincts in the city. TOP 09 and ANO, as well as the Greens and ANO, showed a fairly marked negative correlation in Prague. ANO did best, glancing at precinct results, in outlying neighborhoods and in some neighborhoods with densely packed communist-era apartment blocks.

Karel Schwarzenberg helped out the party in Prague (and the country in general). Standing as TOP 09’s top candidate in Prague, Schwarzenberg won 37,794 preference votes, or 28% of all ballots cast for TOP 09 in the city. Miroslav Kalousek, in contrast, won only 10,246 preference votes as the top candidate in Central Bohemia.

On the other hand, the party also performed well in North Bohemia (not generally a right-wing stronghold): its top two regional results were 21.3% in Karlovy Vary Region and Ústí nad Labem/Ústecký Region. North Bohemia is a traditional industrial area (mining) which has the highest unemployment rates in the region and a “newer” population – most residents settled in the region after 1945, following the expulsion of Sudeten Germans. It has provided a political base for the far-right in the past, and it remains one of the KSČM’s strongest regions (already in 1946, the KSČ had performed best in the former Sudetenland, especially North Bohemia).

ANO 2011 was likely boosted by its alliance with Severočeš (North, a local party which holds two seats in the Senate and won 12% in the 2012 regional elections in Ústí nad Labem. Allied with ANO 2011 in Ústí nad Labem region, elected two of its candidates to the Chamber.

There seems to be a fairly solid (albeit not perfect) correlation between strong support for ANO 2011 and towns where Agrofert owns a company. One particular result piqued my interest: ANO 2011 won 32% of the vote (which is huge) in Lovosice (Ústí nad Labem), which apparently has a major agricultural fertilizers industry – and Agrofert owns two companies in that city. A blog post on looked at the links between ANO’s results and Agrofert companies. In a lot of smaller towns in which Agrofert is the main employer, ANO did very well: Valašské Meziříčí, 26%; Chropyně, 23%; Napajedla, 27%; Přerov, 24%; Hlinsko, 24%; Kostelec, 30%; Hustopeče, 22%. Ihned found that out of 40 towns with Agrofert companies, ANO placed first or second in all but four of them. In Průhonice, a town located just outside of Prague in which Babiš has invested a lot of money, ANO won 31% of the vote. The article cited above mentioned how locals said that they appreciated Babiš because he provided jobs, offered job security and took good care of his employees.

That being said, ANO 2011’s support seems to have been fairly evenly distributed: its support ranged from 16% to 21.5% in all fourteen regions.

The excellent Datablog on the Ihned website did some basic vote transfer analysis. It shows that most of ANO’s supporters had backed right-wingers in 2010: 22.6% voted ODS, 19.2% voted VV and 18.9% voted TOP 09. About 23% had not voted in 2010, and 11.2% had backed other parties. However, very few of ANO’s voters came over from the left: only 4.3% from the ČSSD and 0.7% from KSČM. The ČSSD largely lost votes to the Communists (15.1% of the KSČM’s 2013 voters had voted ČSSD in 2010) or Okamura’s Úsvit (12.2% of his voters had backed the ČSSD in 2010).

Úsvit voters mostly came from VV (27.7%) or other parties (24.8%, including the KDU-ČSL). 15% came from the ODS, but only 5.8% came from TOP 09.

The ODS lost a lot of votes to TOP 09: about a third of TOP 09’s supporters in this election had voted for the ODS in 2010 (about 189,600 voters). Therefore, TOP 09 lost a lot of voters to ANO (about 175,150) and other parties (about 122,000 votes) but gained a lot from the ODS.

The KSČM also did best in Ústí nad Labem region (20.3%). The party’s map is rather similar to the map of the pre-1945 German population in the Czech Republic (Sudetenland), with the exception of Liberec. Following World War II, the Czechoslovak government controversially expelled the German population from the Sudetenland, and these territories were extensively resettled with Czechs or Slovaks. In North Bohemia, many of these new settlers came to work in the region’s mines and heavy industry. Territories which were resettled after World War II have long been Communist strongholds: in the 1946 election, the last semi-free election before communist rule, the Communist Party’s support was closely correlated to the former Sudetenland and areas of pre-war German population. Resettlement, of course, meant major social upheaval and the construction of a new, completely different social structure than in the past. Settlers must also have felt some kind of indebtedness for newly acquired property, and certainly were very hostile to subsequent German demands for reparations, compensations or right of return. The KSČ and today the KSČM have taken strongly nationalist and anti-German stances. Earlier this year, for example, the KSČM strongly condemned a speech given by then-Prime Minister Petr Nečas in Munich in which he expressed regret for the wrongs caused by the population transfers.


% vote for the KDU-CSL in northern Moravia and Moravian Silesia, and former borders of the German Sudetenland (source:

This blog post, in Czech, looked at the results in the former German Sudetenland. The KSČM won 18.2% of the vote in the former Sudetenland, compared to 14.2% in the rest of the country. Protest parties also did better in the former Sudetenland: ANO also did about 2% better, Úsvit won 7.9% (6.7% in the rest of the country); TOP 09, ODS and especially the KDU-ČSL all did worse in the Sudetenland. TOP 09 won 9.6% in the former German territories, but took 12.5% in the rest of the country. TOP 09’s results across the country seem to reflect an affluent, well-educated and economically successful population (notably small-business owners and entrepreneurs); therefore it is unsurprising that TOP 09 would perform poorly in the former Sudetenland, which is poorer than the rest of the country. TOP 09 also did poorly in the industrialized mining basin of Moravian Silesia.

The KDU-ČSL won 4% in the former German territories, but won 7.4% in the rest of the country. The KDU-ČSL’s significantly lower results in the former Sudetenland is striking in the Olomouc Region, as the aforementioned blog article found: looking at the map of the KDU-ČSL’s result in the Rýmařov and Bruntál regions of northern Moravia/Silesia. As the map to the left shows, the party’s results are significantly lower in towns which were largely German until 1945. In this same region (Nízký Jeseník), economically depressed and resettled after 1945, the KSČM did very well in a lot of small villages.

In North Bohemia, the KSČM’s best results came not from the largest industrial cities or even the major mining centres, but rather from small towns and rural areas. In other regions where the KSČM did well, the patterns appear to be rather similar: the KSČM didn’t do extremely well in more populous towns, but they did very well in smaller towns and rural areas. I would suppose that these rural areas have an older population (hence the higher propensity to support the KSČM) and political traditions might still play a role.

The above blog article also emphasized the role of comparative economic deprivation in strong KSČM results. One region where this certainly appears to be true is Liberec Region. It is something of a right-wing stronghold: TOP 09 did quite well in the region, winning 15.2% of the vote – to be fair, TOP 09’s strength might have a lot to do with its alliance with a local party, Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK) which actually won the 2012 regional elections. Nevertheless, the region has tended to be economically stronger than other Sudetenland regions, which are more deprived (high unemployment, social tensions due to a high Roma population in North Bohemia, poor economy). Liberec and Jablonec are large urban areas (which is generally favourable, on balance, to the right-wing parties in the Czech Republic), and the Communists only won about 11% of the vote in both of those cities. However, in the same region, the KSČM did very well in the area around Frýdlant (Frýdlantská pahorkatina/Jizera mountains), an economically depressed region with high unemployment. The Communists won 18.3% in Frýdlant itself and did even better in small towns, winning upwards of 25-30%.

A basic analysis comparing various demographic indicators to the election results found some interesting results, although correlation does not equal causation. In municipalities with high unemployment, the KSČM won 21.5% of the vote, placing a strong second behind the ČSSD (23.3%). TOP 09 (6.4%) and the ODS (4.9%) performed worse in areas with high unemployment, while Úsvit did better (8.2%). In areas with low unemployment (Prague area, major urban areas in Central Bohemia, Plzeň, České Budějovice, Hradec Králové), TOP 09 won the most votes with 19.9%, against 17.7% for ANO, 16.3% for the ČSSD and only 10.8% for the Communists (basically tied with the ODS, which won 10.7%). In towns with low population density, the Communists won 20.6% of the vote, only a few points behind the Social Democrats (21.4%). TOP 09 and the ODS, again, did significantly worse in these less populous villages. From these indicators, one party whose vote share varied little was ANO: it did not do significantly better or worse in any kind of town by these selected indicators. Like a protest party, drawing from everywhere?

By far, the ČSSD’s best region was Moravia-Silesia (26.4%) and the party won 31.8% of the vote in Karviná district – a major coal mining basin. Outside the solidly leftist mining basin of Czech Silesia and solidly right-wing Prague, the ČSSD’s support was fairly homogeneously spread throughout the country. It did more poorly in Liberec region (16.9%) and Central Bohemia (18.4%).

The KDU-ČSL’s support is heavily concentrated in Moravia, winning over 10% of the vote in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions. Moravia, poorer, more rural and more clerical than Bohemia, has long been a stronghold of ‘Catholic clerical’ parties – the ČSL’s support during the First Republic was largely Moravian, the KSČ did poorly in Moravia in the 1946 election (and the ČSL did well) and the KDU-ČSL, after 1990, managed to retain a lot of that rural, Catholic Moravian support. As noted above, the KDU-ČSL did very poorly in the former German territories. This likely means that, after 1990, the KDU-ČSL did well where it inherited a strong interwar ČSL tradition. In German areas, voters in the interwar years had backed German parties and Czech parties like the ČSL (among others) had little footing if any.

Úsvit’s support was quite evenly distributed as well: outside of Prague (only 3.2%) and Zlín (10.2%), its support in other regions varied between 5.5% and 8%. VV leader Vit Bárta was unable to win reelection standing as Úsvit’s top candidate in the Plzeň region; however, VV members won three seats standing on Úsvit’s lists.


This election has not ended the political crisis in the Czech Republic. Far from it, it has only prolonged it further. The ČSSD had been expecting (and was expected) to win some 65-70 seats, which would have allowed it to form a minority government with KSČM support. Instead, the ČSSD won only fifty seats, and a ČSSD-KSČM government would have only 83 seats.

One party has upset all these plans: ANO 2011. The party’s major success at the polls means that their support is very much crucial to any future government. However, Babiš isn’t too hot on the idea of participating in a coalition government. Before the election, he repeatedly said that his movement would help pass “good laws” in opposition rather than being in government, and he more or less reiterated that on the day following the election. He had ruled out working in government with either ODS or TOP 09, seeing those parties as bywords for corruption. There are also significant tensions between Babiš’ new party and the ‘old parties’ of the right, especially TOP 09. Therefore, we can rule out a coalition of right-wing parties (ANO, TOP 09, ODS, KDU-ČSL), which would had only a tenuous 103 seat majority anyhow.

ANO’s results and its impact on the election result means that Babiš’ earlier hopes to remain out of government and to be a ‘constructive opposition’ are unsustainable.

Babiš’ relations with the ČSSD do not seem all that good; the ČSSD (unwisely) dismissed ANO as a commercial party and Babiš has cited significant policy differences with the centre-left, notably on taxation. After the election, Babiš prided himself in saying that he had contributed to the defeat of the left. However, the policy differences do not seem too big to overcome: both parties pledged to reduce the VAT, scrap the healthcare user fees or introduce new anti-corruption measures. Perhaps the most likely government which could be formed now is a ČSSD-led government with the participation or external support of ANO and the KDU-ČSL. Such a coalition would hold 111 seats, which would still make for an extremely unstable government.

For the time being, the situation is further complicated by the nasty infighting within the ČSSD. ČSSD voters contributed to the internal crisis in the party: party leader Sobotka and his pro-Zeman rival Michal Hašek both ran on the party’s list in the South Moravia region. Michal Hašek won more preferential votes than Sobotka, raking in some 25,531 preference votes against 22,175 preference votes for the incumbent ČSSD chairman. After the election, the crisis within the party has worsened. A day after the election (and after having met with Zeman), rebels led by Michal Hašek voted to exclude Sobotoka from the negotiating team and called on him to resign, outraging Sobotka and his allies who spoke of a ‘putsch’ and refused to resign. Since then, Hašek’s pro-Zeman negotiating team fell apart and a new team, led by Sobotka, was established on Wednesday last week. However, Sobotka’s negotiating team is only making courtesy contacts with other parties; the real negotiations will start after the ČSSD’s executive resolves the leadership question on November 10.

Hašek has the backing of about 22 ČSSD MPs, against 18 for the incumbent leader and ten sitting on the fence. The nasty infighting in the largest party further complicates government formation and creates the threat that the country’s last remaining ‘credible’ governing party could fall apart.

The situation is further complicated by President Miloš Zeman, the wildcard in all this – and very much a crucial player. Zeman is responsible for nominating a Prime Minister, although the constitution imposes no time limits for the nomination of a Prime Minister and Zeman is probably in no hurry to make his decision before the ČSSD’s crisis has been resolved. In the meantime, Zeman’s presidential cabinet (Rusnok) will remain in place as a caretaker government, giving Zeman a hand in the day-to-day ruling of the country.

Normally, the President would nominate the leader of the largest party (or the leader of the party which could assemble a coalition) to the office of Prime Minister and that would be that. However, it’s clear that Zeman isn’t a normal President. He has already indicated that he may not choose to nominate the leader of the largest party (Sobotka); instead, Zeman said that he would name a ‘representative’ from the party which won the most votes. Zeman has already intervened in the post-election crisis. On Saturday October 26, the ČSSD rebels led by Hašek met with Zeman. In an interview he gave on Sunday October 27, Zeman said that Sobotka should resign because of the ČSSD’s poor showing. It is quite clear that Zeman would like to nominate somebody like Hašek as Prime Minister. It would provide him with a friendlier government, which he could hope to influence.

Regardless of what government is patched together on these numbers, what seems rather certain is that the next government will be very unstable. It will be hard to get a stable government when it is dependent on the backing of ANO 2011, a brand new populist party whose ideology is uncertain and whose capacity to survive after an election is also quite uncertain (see the example of VV’s rapid collapse). Karel Schwarzenberg and ODS leader Miroslava Němcová have both already stated that they think that there will be new elections, within one or two years according to Schwarzenberg. Zeman has said that he opposes new elections, and called on politicians – including himself – to take their responsibilities and ensure the formation of a stable government. However, an unstable government, especially if it is led by the pro-Zeman wing of the ČSSD, would likely be very weak in the face of the increasingly powerful presidency. As such, the upcoming political instability only strengthens Zeman. Therefore, even if Zeman’s horse in the race (SPOZ) did very poorly, he can still be considered as one of the major winners of this election.

How will Czech politics, currently in a state of flux, evolve in the coming years? Will the ČSSD and ODS, the two old major parties which both did terribly in this election, reinvent themselves in a way which is more appealing to an electorate which is fed up with the old party system and corruption? Will the ODS ever be able to regain its dominance of the right, having been upset not only by TOP 09 but also ANO in this election? What will become of the two new populist parties which emerged in this election? Few are predicting a long future for Úsvit, an unstable and fractious party made up of diverse elements and with an appeal resting on very vague nations of ‘direct democracy’ and nationalistic sentiments. Most expect Okamura’s party to collapse within a few years. However, what will become of Babiš’ ANO? Will the party, especially if it is compelled to enter government, go the way of VV and collapse in scandal and dissension within a few years? ANO’s appeal might very well wear off, and the party’s relatively vague ideology could come back to haunt it. On the other hand, ANO seems like it is built on a more solid footing than VV was; Babiš appears to be a stronger, more determined leader who is committed to building a party organization and hopes to entrench his party as a major party in the new, unpredictable game of Czech politics. In short, could Babiš actually become the Czech Berlusconi; the charismatic tycoon who builds his own party (around himself), leads it to success at the polls and weathers tougher times to become a mainstay in his country’s political system.

The Czech Republic may very well have lived a realigning election, which marks the fall of the relatively stable and straightforward (left-right) party system which had predominated between 1996 and 2010 (2010 could be seen as a ‘transition’ election to a new party system) and the rise of a new party system, one in which new populist parties led by tycoons or other charismatic figures (less closely tied to traditional ideologies) compete with the remaining ‘older’ ideological parties (and also one in which a president is intent on imposing his own stamp on the political system).