Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Piñera pays off his 'debt', his supporters, and then some

El Mostrador is rapidly proving itself to be Chile's best source of investigative journalism, and after March 11, perhaps with The Clinic, will be the country's only independent news source, not openly partial to the Piñera govenment. Imagine if during the Bush years all there was in the US was Fox and the Washington Times.

Today El Mostrador publishes a report on how much Piñera has won since winning the election three days ago -- enough, in theory, to pay off whatever the election cost him. Plus, since it stands to reason that most people who buy stocks are people who have they money to do so, and the people who have the money to do so are in the top 5% (if not 1%) of Chile's population, the rise in the value of Piñera-linked stocks amounts to a massive pay-off of those who overwhelmingly supported Piñera. Thanks for playing.

Only a few days since the election, the issue of money and politics has already come to the fore. And things are only getting started. Piñera has already anounced that he intends to open up Codelco to private investment. Will he resist the temptation to invest a few of his own shekels in this bonanza? He will argue that his holdings are all in blind trust. Blind but not deaf: if someone, just at the right momenty, happens to mention to the blind trust to have a billion or so handy.

I'm just saying.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Losing it

I jotted down some further thoughts (in Spanish) on the Concertación loss in last Sunday's presidential election. I can be found here.

Basically, I think that the Concertación lost because it lost its way. Frei was a symptom, not a cause. Now there is a chance to re-establish some fundamentals. Does it wish to continue being a coalition? Is there anything keeping the four parties together? Is it willing to make substantive changes to its internal institutions? Is it willing to rethink its ideas?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

President Piñera

In the end the predictions were a bit off. It wasn't as close as all that. Piñera won (51.6%, to Frei's 48.4%).

Many things go through one's mind. If you live in Chile, or if you study Chile, this is a big one. Like the Berlin Wall or the moon landing. As someone who does both, I need a few days to digest it all. But a few things can be said, so in honour of the shennanigans that have gone on in American late night TV this week, here's a top ten list.

10. Piñera ran a great campaign. Tight, well funded (no kidding!), and on message throughout.
9. The Concertación ran a lousy campaign at every level.
8. The Concertación could have one this but...
7. MEO is not to blame (he's still finished, though).
6. The Concertación knows what the problem is... renovation. I am not sure they know how to tackle it, however. The problem is not just generational.
5. There will not be much change in domestic policy.
4. There will likely be a shift in foreign policy. We'll be Colombia's new best friend.
3. Many will find the result unpleasant but reluctantly recognize that it's healthy. Like a visit to the dentist.
2. The UDI is going to cash in on what they think they have coming. Piñera is not going to hand it over so easily.
1. President Piñera. The rest is commentary.



The latest projection from Radio Bio Bio/CNN is 50.9% for Piñera, 49.1% for Frei. This is the fifth projection they have announced, and they have all hovered in the same ballpark.


Radio Bio Bio, which did a pretty good job last time, is projecting a win for Sebastian Piñera: 50.7 to 49.3

If they're right, it's going to be a loooong night.


Did my duty. My thumb is blue.

I have also observed that the streets of Santiago appear to be suddenly full of SUVs with dust on the back. My keen eye tells me that this means lots of people have returned from the coast and the country to vote. And the people who drive SUVs to the coast and the country probably vote for Piñera.

In other words, from a strictly anecdotal point of view, any hopes that the Concertación may have had that Piñera voters would not bother to interrupt their summer holidays seem to have been misplaced.

Similarly, my polling station, the Adventist School in Las Condes, was packed. Again -- not a sign of Piñeristas staying on the beach.

Meanwhile, Greg Weeks quite rightly points out that the close nature of this race, the internal dynamics and relationship between Piñera and his coalition, and the little experience the world has with a non-military right wing government in Chile, has meant that the press is a bit wobbly on what this all means.

They're not the only ones.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Where do things stand?

Less than 24 hours before the polls open, the truth is nobody knows.

Certainly Marta Lagos' poll this week helped, if nothing else, to put a bit of wind in the sails of the poor souls running around the country trying to convince voters of something not even they believe. It is likely, however, that it also put some wind in the sails of the Piñeristas, who for much of the campaign were so self-confident that many had proabably already decamped to Cachagua. The poll will probably force these poor people to wipe the 50 SPF off their bodies, load up the Land Rovers, and return to Santiago.

I suspect, though, that les jeux sont faits -- that Piñera will win by a slim margin. I suspect that what follows will be a month or two of triumphalism, and once in office, a short witch hunt. Then, he will have to veer to the centre, if he is to avoid total social chaos, and it will be business as usual.

For it's part, the Concertación will enter a period of tribal warfare of a violence and intensity to rival Rwanda. The left will split (again) in two or three: a labour-friendly Arratish left; a Lagos-like third way left; and a post-modern, or rather, post-transitional MEOista left. La izquiera no-unida is not worth a mechada at El Liguria. The question is how these forces, in the medium and long term, will reorganize, and whether they will unite with the PDC. Doubt it. That was a freak of nature and history, and there are no ideological, political or policy reasons why they should join up again.

If Frei wins, it will be business as usual for four years, except he has zero leadership, and hardly any support from divided parties and a divided Concertación, plus a strong opposition presence in Congress. Frei will have a bad four years -- with economic growth, yes -- but will have no support internally, and a really, really pissed off right.

It's usually not a good idea to piss off the right.

On the other hand, I have to admit that although Frei has zero charisma, his positive attitude and absolute commitment to the campaign, his hard work, have been really admirable. A whole new meaning to Arbeit Macht Frei.

That's pretty much it I think.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


MORI released a poll indicating that the presidential race is far closer than anything (except me) thought. In a nation-wide survey, 50.1% of those polled say they support Piñera, while 49.9% support Frei.

What is more interesting, however, is little tidbit that got far less coverage. About 35% of those who voted for Marco Enríquez-Ominami in the first round say they are either undecided or will abstain in some way (blank vote, etc). If we assume that many of these will make up their minds in the next few days, or decide to vote strategically in one direction or another, the only conclusion is that all bets are off. We're three days from the election, and can only say that we have no clue as to what is going to happen. I only hope that it is not so close that we enter into some sort of national crisis, a sort of Florida or Mexico reloaded. I hope that whoever loses by one vote has the dignity to accept it.

Don't count on it.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Tonight's debate

On the eve of tonight's presidential debate, Greg Weeks says that he has yet to see someone predict a Frei win. Here's one.

I will be liveblogging the debate tonight with Pato Navia on the Santiago Times. Do tune in for insightful -- albeit somewhat sleepy (it's at 10 pm) -- commentary.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


Over the last few days, a major issue has gripped the nation. Or at least the chattering classes.

I am talking about Naviagate. My good friend and colleague, Patricio Navia, announced that after publicly endorsing Marco Enríquez Ominami, he was switching his allegiance to Sebastián Piñera.

It has been a real scandal, even including leaked emails, protestations of innocence, and accusations of betrayal.

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. What I do find interesting is the underlying issue of the role of the public intellectual. Is it an issue if a political scientist announces his political preferences? Does it affect objectivity? And even if it does not, does it affect how people regard that objectivity?

I am not sure what the answer is, but my ruminations in Spanish can be found here. (Do take the time to read the comments.... they're pretty funny).

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year

I and the electoral campaign have been on something of a hiatus during the holiday season, but both of us gear up again today. But just as being back at work for one day makes you forget the holidays, being back on the campaign trail for one day makes the campaigns forget everything that went right or wrong in the previous weeks.

As a result, the political comments today from both campaigns seems to be a lot of talk, but saying very little. Just two offerings:

From the Piñera campaign: Frei seeks to "bring out old ghosts and hatreds"

From the Frei campaign: the Right "shows nervousness, loses its calm and composure"

This is pretty much representative of the level of political debate. But it doesn't seem to matter... electoral campaigns in the middle of summer vacations do not summon massive public attention. Which suggests that barring major earthquakes (geological or political), things remain on course for a Piñera win.

And it doesn't matter what Ominami says.