Right-wing Sebastián Piñera returns to power in Chile

Leader’s re-election four years after leaving office another marker in region’s political shift

With his election on Sunday to a new term as president of Chile nearly four years after his first ended, Sebastián Piñera has confirmed South America's recent turn to the political right.

Mr Piñera comfortably defeated centre-left candidate Senator Alejandro Guillier, taking 54.4 per cent of the poll to 45 per cent for his opponent. Mr Guillier, who embarrassingly failed to carry his home region of Antofagasta, said it had been a "hard defeat" for his alliance, which has politically dominated Chile since the return of democracy in 1990.

A billionaire investor, Mr Piñera will assume office in March when for the second time he will take over from Michelle Bachelet. The failure of the main centre-right and left coalitions that run Chile to produce fresh leaders led to a surprising jump in votes for candidates representing harder right- and left-wing positions in the first round of voting.

On Sunday, Mr Guillier seems to have been hampered by the failure of a significant portion of those who voted for the candidate running to his left in the first round to transfer their votes to him in the second round.


Santiago’s stock market soared on Monday as investors celebrated the victory of one of the country’s most high-profile businessmen, who made his fortune in credit cards and airlines. But many analysts, pointing to Mr Piñera’s first term as evidence, said there was little politically to differentiate him from Ms Bachelet beyond style and rhetoric.

Many Chileans became unhappy with her second administration, which had to manage a sharp decline in economic growth and whose widely criticised reform agenda failed to significantly tackle inequality, especially in the education system.

Mr Piñera will now inherit these challenges and must do so in partnership with a fragmented congress, where the parties who back him lack a majority. His victory follows those of centre-right candidates in Argentina and Peru that, along with the installation of a centre-right government in Brazil following the impeachment of leftist Dilma Rousseff, has helped swing the continent away from the left that dominated it since the millennium.


But Peruvian centre-right president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski faces being stripped of office by the opposition-controlled congress on Thursday over corruption allegations.

It will vote after the recent revelation of links between Mr Kuczynski and Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is at the heart of a series of corruption scandals in more than a dozen countries across three continents.

Odebrecht recently admitted to the congress in Lima that it paid companies linked to Mr Kuczynski $4.8 million (€4.06 million) since 2004, with some of the cash transferred while he was serving in previous administrations.

Mr Kuczynski denies any wrongdoing.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America