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CONFIDENTIAL (97070)
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Reference ID 09SANTIAGO943 (original text)
SubjectCHILE'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: ALL BETS ON PINERA
OriginEmbassy Santiago
ClassificationCONFIDENTIAL
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedDec 17, 2009 19:54
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
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RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 SANTIAGO 000943 
 
SIPDIS 
STATE FOR WHA/BSC, WHA/CCA, INR/B, WHA/EPSC, S/P 
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USTR KKALUTKIEWICZ, EBRZYTWA, JKEMP, CSMOTHERS 
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AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN PASS TO AMEMBASSY GRENADA 
AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PASS TO AMCONSUL QUEBEC 
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PASS TO AMCONSUL RECIFE 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/17 
TAGS:      
SUBJECT: CHILE'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: ALL BETS ON PINERA 
 
REF: A. SANTIAGO 755; B. SANTIAGO 867 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Paul Simons, Ambassador, State, US Embassy Santiago; 
REASON: 1.4(B) 
 
 1.  (C) Summary:  Days after the December 13 first round 
presidential election, the picture for center-left presidential 
candidate Eduardo Frei is bleak.  The former president, who in 1993 
was elected to his first term by the largest margin in Chilean 
history, this time received 29.6% of the vote--the lowest 
percentage ever for a Concertacion presidential candidate.  With 
just a month until the runoff election, frontrunner Sebastian 
Pinera is attempting to woo voters who backed third-place finisher 
Marco Enriquez-Ominami while his advisors plan for a presidential 
transition and Pinera's first 100 days in office.  Meanwhile, the 
Frei camp struggles to find room for optimism and to define a way 
forward.  End Summary. 
 
 
 
 2.  (U) Final results from the December 13 first round presidential 
election are: 
 
--Sebastian Pinera, center-right Alianza coalition:  44.0% 
 
--Eduardo Frei, center-left Concertacion coalition:  29.6% 
 
--Marco Enriquez-Ominami, independent leftist:  20.1% 
 
--Jorge Arrate, "Allendista socialist" running on a 
Communist/Humanist ticket:  6.2% 
 
The top two finishers, Pinera and Frei, will face each other in a 
January 17 runoff election. 
 
 
 
Frustration, Resignation, Disbelief, Denial:  Reactions from the 
Frei Camp 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- 
----------------------------- 
 
 
 
 3.  (C) The Concertacion reaction to Frei's poor showing began when 
polls closed Sunday night, as observers--who were displeased by 
Pinera's 12 point advantage after the first, partial vote 
count--were shocked when the gap widened by two points in the 
subsequent count.   And things only got worse.  Chileans woke up to 
Monday morning headlines showing that Frei received less than 30% 
of the vote--a startling outcome for a former president and the 
candidate of a coalition that has ruled for nearly 20 years. 
Frei's 29.6% final vote tally is, psychologically, much worse than 
the 32% he had at the beginning of the vote count (with 13% of 
polling stations) or the 30% he had after the second round of 
results (based on 60% of polling stations) were released.  Indeed, 
leading Chilean newspapers (which tend to be politically 
conservative) described the result as "Concertacion's darkest day" 
and highlighted that this was the worst performance ever by a 
Concertacion presidential candidate. 
 
 
 
 4.  (C) President Bachelet appears to have decided to maintain her 
distance from Frei, rather than put her full weight behind his 
campaign.  While her cabinet-level spokesperson, Carolina Toha, 
resigned on Monday as expected to lead the Frei campaign, no other 
ministers followed.  Observers had expected Bachelet's active 
participation in this last stage of the campaign, unless Frei's 
election seemed like a lost cause.  So Bachelet's apparent decision 
to root for Frei from the sidelines both reflects Frei's poor 
prospects and is likely to further hurt his chances.  Concertacion 
insider Enrique Correa pulled no punches during a December 16 
 
SANTIAGO 00000943  002 OF 003 
 
 
meeting with the Ambassador saying that a Frei win is "not 
impossible, but very difficult" and adding "it also matters how we 
lose," a reference to his hope that Pinera's victory margin on 
January 17 will not be overwhelming. 
 
 
 
Jubilation in the Pinera Campaign 
 
------------------------------------------- 
 
 
 
 5.  (SBU) Not surprisingly, Pinera supporters are overjoyed at 
Sunday's results, which were in line with their most optimistic 
models.  Many Pinera observers consider their candidate to be 
essentially unbeatable now.   Indeed, part of the conservative 
campaign strategy for the final month of campaigning is to paint an 
aura of invincibility around Pinera--a tactic the team tested on 
Monday when Pinera was presented with a model of La Moneda, the 
presidential palace, during a campaign rally.  The ever-organized 
conservative campaign also ran full-page ads in major newspapers on 
Monday, thanking voters for their support.   The candidate is 
spending this week campaigning in areas where independent 
progressive candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami, who finished third 
and thus does not have a place in the runoff election, was 
particularly strong.   Emphasizing his theme of "change," Pinera 
has temporarily eschewed well-known conservative politicians 
(including recently elected members of Congress) and is surrounding 
himself with younger, less public politicians, symbolizing a new 
generation of political leadership. 
 
 
 
 6.  (C) Expectations of success are so high in the Pinera campaign 
that preparations for a potential Pinera administration, which were 
already underway before the first round, have now reached fever 
pitch.  Pinera foreign policy advisor Rodrigo Yanez told poloff 
that the teams of programmatic advisors, known collectively as 
Grupo Tantauco, have increased the pace of their work.  Their 
current focus is not just on the transition, but beyond.   Should 
Pinera win on January 17, each team hopes to present the 
president-elect with not just a plan for the transition, but also a 
blueprint for action in their programmatic area during first 100 
days of the Pinera administration.   (Comment:  Although far more 
prepared than their Concertacion rivals, at times the Pinera camp 
has not been able to live up to their own spin.  After a 
well-publicized event in April when the 36 Grupo Tantauco teams 
turned over binders with their policy platforms to Pinera, Yanez 
privately admitted to poloff that some of the policy teams had not 
functioned well, and some of the binders so prominently displayed 
were in fact empty or nearly so.  End Comment.) 
 
 
 
Two Potential Strategies for Frei:   A New Vision, or Going 
Negative Against Pinera 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- 
----------------------------------------- 
 
 
 
 7.  (C)  Frei faces a steep uphill battle in the last stage of the 
presidential campaign.  The former president has been steadily 
losing support for months.  In polls released in June, September, 
and November by the well-regarded Centro de Estudios Publicos, 
Frei's support dropped from 36% to 33% and then 30% among voters 
who expressed a preference.   And while progressive candidates won 
a majority of the votes in the December 13 first round election 
(nearly 30% for Frei, 20% for Enriquez-Ominami, and 6% for leftist 
Jorge Arrate), capturing the Enriquez-Ominami votes in particular 
 
SANTIAGO 00000943  003 OF 003 
 
 
will not be easy. 
 
 
 
 8.  (C) To win on January 17, Frei would need to unite a disparate 
group of voters and generate enormous energy.  In theory, Frei 
could do this either with a popular and ambitious set of goals that 
will appeal to a diverse constituency, or by attacking his 
opponent.  Concertacion insider Enrique Correa believes that Frei 
is likely to take the first option, building a new, values-based 
campaign emphasizing social issues (e.g. the day-after 
contraceptive pill, civil unions for gay couples, and allowing 
limited access to abortion) and environmental protection.  However, 
a campaign along these lines may be difficult to plan and execute, 
and may not lead to success.  Frei has never clearly articulated 
what he hopes to achieve in a second term in office (beyond 
continuing the work of the extremely popular President Bachelet) 
and voters have shown little interest in policy platforms. 
 
 
 
 9.  (C) It seems likely that Frei will also try to motivate people 
to vote against Pinera.  Concertation has kept its grip on power 
for twenty years partially because Chilean voters associate the 
conservative Alianza coalition with the Pinochet regime.  Although 
Pinera has been the most successful Alianza candidate so far to 
break with this mold--Pinera is a centrist who famously voted 
against military rule in the 1988 plebiscite--many of the older 
generation of Alianza politicians have connections to the Pinochet 
government.  (Comment:  Avoiding these links may be part of the 
reason why Pinera is now choosing to avoid established Alianza 
politicians in favor of up-and-coming conservatives.  End Comment.) 
Similarly, Pinera himself is a highly successful--and at time 
ruthless--business tycoon with a number of skeletons in his closet 
(Refs A and B).  Frei may paint Pinera as an unethical businessman 
who is allied with former dictatorship cronies.  Yet even this 
unflattering portrait might not be enough to swing voters over to 
support Frei.  As progressive think tank leader Maria de los 
Angeles Fernandez pointed out to poloff, "The voters already know 
that Pinera is a bit of a scoundrel, and they've chosen to support 
him anyway." 
 
 
 
Comment 
 
------------- 
 
 
 
 10.  (C)  Frei's campaign has been characterized by well-publicized 
in-fighting, poor coordination, and few new ideas.  The candidate 
himself is uncharismatic and--as a 67-year-old former president and 
son of a president--perfectly symbolizes Chile's stagnant politics. 
Frei's poor showing in Sunday's election, while worse than many 
expected, reflects a campaign which at nearly every turn has been 
bested by the better-organized, better-funded Pinera effort.  A 
Frei victory on January 17--while still possible--will be very 
difficult to achieve.  End Comment. 
SIMONS
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