Strong gains for opposition left in Chile municipal vote
SANTIAGO – Early returns from municipal voting in Chile on Sunday showed sizeable gains for left-of-centre parties, an outcome that could foreshadow the electorate's mood ahead of next year's presidential election.
There was a relatively low participation rate for balloting to pick mayors and town councils in 345 jurisdictions across this nation of more than 17 million people on South America's west coast.
With about 60 percents of ballots counted, a coalition of centrist, leftist and centre-left opposition parties – including Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and radicals – accounted for about 43.65 per cent of the vote.
That compares to about 38 per cent garnered by parties allied with the ruling right.
"This is a beating for the Alliance for Chile," the ruling coalition that brings together the centrist National Renewal Party and the ultra-conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI), said analyst Patricio Navia, a political analyst at the Universidad Diego Portales.
Chile's billionaire businessman president, conservative Sebastian Pinera, who has an approval rating of about 30 per cent, was voted into office in January 2010, and is nearing the end of his mandate.
The country holds general elections in November 2013, so Sunday's municipal elections were being closely watched as an important test of voter sentiment – one that augurs well for the parties of the left.
In the last round of municipal elections in 2008, conservatives won more than 40 per cent of the vote, while a centre-left coalition got about 38 per cent, foreshadowing the subsequent election breakthrough by Pinera.
The conservative president could face off against Michelle Bachelet who preceded him as Chile's president.
Bachelet is a socialist former president who currently heads the United Nations organisation for women. She has yet to say if she will run.
Leftist parties ruled Chile for 20 years after the end of General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Allende socialist leader Salvador Allende, who died in a 1973 coup.
The election of a large number of right-of-centre municipal officials four years ago was considered a sign of changing political fortunes for the right, marking the first return to parties of the right since Allende's rule.
Participation in Sunday's election was voluntary, something new in Chile, a country where until January everyone 18 and over were required by law to vote. -- AFP