Chilean Presidential Campaign Ads

The Chilean presidential campaign is in full gear pitting the conservative Sebastián Piñera who polled 44.05 percent of the vote in the first round against Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat that forms part of the governing left of center La Concertación por la Democracia alliance, who polled just 29.6 percent in the first round given a split in the alliance that saw a Socialist candidate, Marco Enríquez Ominami, take 20.13 percent. Jorge Arrate, the candidate of the Chilean Communist Party (PCC), trailed with 6.21 percent.

Frei, a former President and the son of a President, now has the task re-uniting his electoral coalition that is composed of his economically left but socially conservative Christian Democratic party (DC), the Socialist party (PS), the Partido Radical Social Demócrata (PRSD) and the Partido por la Democracia (PPD). Frei is clearly trying wrap himself up as the historic heir to the center-left alliance that has governed Chile since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990.

This first ad is entitled Vamos a Vivir Mejor or "We Are Going to Live Better." In the ad, the four presidents - Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994), Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), Ricardo Lagos (2000-2005) and Michelle Bachelet (2005-2010) that have ruled Chile appear together to reinforce that message of continuity. The ad runs as "We are going to keep on growing, we are going to live better, we know that we stick together we are going to live better, today I reflect on everything that we have built as of now, it has been during these years that I learned that I could advance, and looking back we remember the path we have traveled, today I will again follow my heart."

This second ad, what spurred me to write this post, is simply remarkable. I had to do a double take and ask myself this is Chile we are talking about? Chile is a modern country and was just earlier this month invited to become the 31st member of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, a grouping of the world's most industrially advanced countries. Chile thus becomes the first member from South America and the second from Latin America (México is the other). But Chile has long been a rather socially conservative country even by South American standards. Issues like divorce (only legalized in 2004), abortion and sexual orientation have long been taboo. Santiago is a very pleasant city but a vibrant nightlife akin to other large cities in South America it does not boast. So this ad is from the Frei campaign is surprising and a measure of perhaps that change is indeed coming to once sleepy Chile. It needs no translation really.

Again the ad features the Frei campaign motto as in the above ad Vamos a vivir mejor, "we are going to live better." After the kiss by the lesbian couple, the line is simply "we all deserve the same rights."

But nothing could prepare me for this next ad, a web only spot. The ad is from the Sebastián Piñera campaign, the billionaire conservative who is making his second consecutive attempt to win the presidency and the former head of the right wing Renovación Nacional party. The spot is entitled La Voz de los sin Voz, or the "voice of the voiceless." The ad runs five minutes but at the 40 second mark Piñera who speaks in the ad is shown next to a gay couple holding hands saying "today people accepts us, now we need the country to respect us." Piñera is pledging to support civil unions for same-sex couples and to allow gay Chileans to serve in the military. But I will also note that Rolando Jiménez of the Movimiento de Liberación Homosexual (Movilh), or the Homosexual Liberation Movement, while applauding the inclusion of gay men in the Piñera campaign also found that Piñera has yet to articulate a specific plan on how he will structure gay civil unions. If you read Spanish, here is more background.

Piñera's campaign slogan is Bienvenido el cambio, or "welcome change."

Both campaigns are also making use of social media using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get their message out.

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In Chile, A Second Round

Chileans went to the polls to elect a new a Congress and a successor to Michelle Bachelet who is constitutionally barred from a second successive term. Despite a rocky start early in tenure, Dr. Bachelet finishes strong with an approval rating of over 80%. She is at this point Latin America's most popular leader.

Since emerging from the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990, Chile has been governed by a left-wing alliance of parties - a coalition of Socialists, Radicals and Christian Democrats - called La Concertación. But now after nearly two decades in power that alliance is frayed despite the wildly popular government of Dr. Bachelet. In nominating the 67 year old Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a former President from 1994 to 2000 and son of a former President, La Concertación seemed to signal that it had run its course.

In stepped a brash young filmmaker with limited political experience, Marco Enríquez-Ominami, known simply by his initials MEO. His father, Miguel Enriquez was a well-known singer who died in 1974 killed in a shoot out with the Chilean military. MEO grew up in Paris and only returned to Chile as a teenage near the end of the Pinochet regime. His platform was rather progressive in what is still one of Latin America's most socially conservative countries. MEO challenged the established candidates on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, issues which are taboo in Chile. It should be noted that La Concertación did not hold a national primary this year to select its candidate, as it had done in the past. That led MEO to resign from the Socialist Party to mount an independent bid, billing himself as a modern alternative to politics as usual in Chile.

The right-wing party Renovación Nacional (RN) nominated Sebastián Piñera Echenique, the loser in 2005 and a billionaire. Piñera, 60 and with a PhD from Harvard in economics, is the face of neo-liberalism a man who made his fortune the old-fashioned way - by buying state assets for pennies on the dollar. In 1970s, he bought a bank which he parlayed into a credit card firm. He now owns one of Chile's largest television networks, a quarter of the airline LAN-Chile and an interest in Colo-Colo, a football club. He campaigned on a law and order platform, promised to grow the economy by 6 percent, create a million new jobs and do to more for the middle classes accusing the Bachelet government of ignoring it.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Piñera finished with 44 percent of the vote. Denied a first round win outright, he will now face Eduardo Frei who finished second with 30 percent. Enríquez-Ominami finished third with 20 percent, ahead of expectations. A Communist party candidate finished a distant fourth with 5 percent of the vote. The second round will be held January 17th for a five year term that starts in March 2010.

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