For someone who campaigned as a plucky outsider, Sebastian Pinera presents a striking resemblance to the man he would replace in the White House.
The Chile-born billionaire is practically a carbon copy of Donald Trump, with similarities being paraded every day at Trump’s Phoenix rally last week. The two share a thick skin, knack for gaffes and a style best described as authoritarian. Their foes say they are not friends. Pinera is paying to clean up his image; as a private citizen, he can speak about what he thinks.
Like Trump, Pinera has campaigned as a voice for the working class, unspoiled by the abuses of politics or the establishment. Yet those same economic divisions have come to define his support base.
Pinera’s support came from across the political spectrum in 2015 when he first became Chile’s president, confounding expectations with an immense electoral majority. The then-businessman-turned-politician is now running to take the top job again.
In his first campaign, Pinera, with his platform of privatizing public transport, building a new Chile and sending illegal immigrants back to Peru, was regarded as a fringe candidate. But his popularity spread to the center and the left and his fellow candidates lost by the biggest margins in the country’s history.
When he returns to power, Pinera aims to raise wages again, build new roads and open a new, free university in the countryside. If he does make it to the election, Pinera can expect to be widely panned for reneging on these pledges. “Chile will be ruined for the working class if he’s re-elected,” said former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.
The parallels between Pinera and Trump end there. Trump has forked over $3 million to Pinera’s campaign, which has contributed some $3 million to the anti-Pinera group “Congress for Change.” But unlike many of Trump’s acts of philanthropy, this campaign has been accompanied by attacks from rival candidates, including for his legal problems and association with Senator Ted Cruz.
Within Chile, Trump has struggled to spread his message. His outspoken comments during the campaign sent fear among Latinos and Mexicans, putting him at odds with a segment of the country. “They have no shame. We will deny immigration,” he said. But many on the left are also worried about Trump — and by a candidate who — no matter how similar their rhetoric may be — is no Trump.
Bachelet, the former president, is running to end Pinera’s tenure with a majority. She remains confident Pinera will fall short of the required 50 percent mark in November’s vote.
“I feel there are two roads, the only one we’re thinking about is pursuing a people’s election, that there’s the right one, and the person who most represents that path is not the right one,” she said in an interview with the New York Times.
If Pinera is defeated on Nov. 19, the next leader of Chile will be a relative unknown — and that is the way his backers want it. Pinera’s last campaign saw him win 77 percent of the vote.
“He’s the man the people want,” said Alberto Boht, 41, a stockbroker.