Right-Wing Businessman Sebastián Piñera Is Chile’s New President

By Dialogo
January 18, 2010

Right-wing businessman Sebastián Piñera is Chile’s next president, after his rival from the governing party, Eduardo Frei, conceded defeat, putting an end to twenty years of center-left governments, in power since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The first official results indicated that Piñera obtained 51.9% of the votes, against 48.1% for Frei, after which former president Frei admitted defeat and wished his rival luck. “I want to congratulate Sebastián Piñera; the majority of Chileans have put their trust in him to manage the destiny of the country for the next four years,” Frei said at his campaign headquarters, with his wife, Marta Larraechea, at his side. “I hope that dialogue, the search for agreement, will prevail, and that the social gains will be maintained that have cost us so much to recover and that have become a symbol of our relationship with the world,” he added. Shortly before, the Interior Minister, Edmundo Pérez Yoma, acknowledged in a statement at the presidential palace that the governing party had lost the election and that the right was returning to power. “The country wants a change today; there’s been a turn to the right, and we are left to wish the next government the best,” Pérez Yoma said, speaking to the press from La Moneda Presidential Palace. In the first reaction from Piñera’s headquarters, his spokesman, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, indicated that “we are very happy, very satisfied,” and committed the new government to working for a “more just and happier” Chile. With the victory by Piñera - a sixty-year-old millionaire businessman - the right returns to power in Chile for the first time since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990 and triumphs at the polls for the first time since 1958, when Jorge Alessandri won. Piñera’s victory also means the end of twenty years in power for the Concertación Democrática [Democratic Concert], the coalition of four center-left parties that has governed Chile since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Juan Carlos Latorre, the president of the Christian Democrats - one of the four parties - also acknowledged Piñera’s victory. Paradoxically, the Concertación’s defeat took place when the incumbent president, Michelle Bachelet, has an 80% popularity rating, which she was unable to transfer to the coalition’s candidate, former president Frei, who governed the country between 1994 and 2000. Chileans chose between the continuity promised by Frei and the change proposed by Piñera. “Change is good for Chile: it’s like opening the window to let in fresh air,” Piñera said Sunday morning. “Change is good after twenty years; we’re going to do things much better,” he added. Piñera, who lost to the current president four years ago, was able to give the right a new look, moving it away from the closeness to Pinochet’s dictatorship that had been so much associated with this political tendency and that led it to four consecutive electoral defeats. In any event, Piñera has announced that he will not rule out including in his government officials who worked for the dictatorship. “The truth is that the fact of having worked for a government, including the military government, is not a sin, nor is it a crime; what is a sin are those who committed crimes, for example those who trampled on human rights,” he said recently. The concerns that have been raised about him are that his economic interests - many of them in strategic sectors like aeronautics and television - may give rise to conflicts of interest with the presidency.