On November 21, Chileans shall vote in the first round of the presidential elections. If there is no winner with 50+1% of the votes, there will be a runoff election between the first two majorities on December 19, from which the future president will emerge. In chronological terms, this might seem a short lapse of time, but in politics, it can be an eternity, especially in the current political scenario, with an explosion of candidacies and an overloaded electoral calendar that escapes rationality, partly due to the pandemic and partly due to the (ir)responsibility of the political elite.
The 30 years of democracy and economic growth became the main point of disagreement between the center-left and the hard left represented by the Communist Party (PC) and the Frente Amplio (FA), a conglomerate formed by more than a dozen parties and movements. Both point out that during the 24 years of government, there was no political will to change the neoliberal economic model inherited from Pinochet, that the changes were insufficient and that there was a straightforward accommodation to the system. These arguments, among others, have been the stumbling block for the broad unity and the raising of a single presidential candidacy of the left. It will be difficult to reach an agreement to interpret that historical period of which could be said - using oriental wisdom - that “little time has passed in order to have a definitive judgment”.
The first consequence of this rupture was the division and registration of seven opposing lists for the constitutional convention that will elect 155 constituents to write the new Constitution on May 16, while the right-wing registered only one.
The current social unrest and ideological disorder is a reflection of that accumulation of frustrations which, as a silent magma, ended with the social outburst of October 18, 2019, or 18/O, as it is known. The political parties, in general, have not been able to give a correct reading of what happened and instead, have tried to take short-term advantages which have been rejected by the majority of citizens. Even worse has been the government of President Sebastián Piñera, which still does not seem to understand the reasons for the social explosion that shook Chilean society. Likewise, the center-left does not understand the disaffection of the people with their parties and leaders, nor the irruption of the candidacy of a congresswoman who overflows the left and the right, according to the latest polls.
Cultural changes are difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret correctly. They require, like wine, the repose of time. Much of the superiority demonstrated by the representatives of the civil-military dictatorship that governed Chile was reflected in that arrogant whiff to differentiate the economic model with neighboring countries, coined in the phrase "Chile says goodbye to Latin America", which was consciously or unconsciously assumed by many politicians. Until very recently, the political and economic stability of our country was a source of pride. Let's remember that only 10 days before O/18, President Piñera said that Chile was an oasis in the region. Today things look a little different and we are becoming more and more similar to our neighbors on several issues including the number of presidential candidates. Peru had 18 in the last elections, Ecuador more than 20 and Chile, so far, 16.
It is true that we have incorporated mandatory primary elections that will contribute to purifying the number of competitors, but the dispersion of candidacies is a reflection of the change in the electoral system, on the one hand, and on the other, also of the mentality of a society where the generational change coincided with the general empowerment of the citizenship as a result of the economic growth and the expansion of freedoms that democratized life. Profound changes were introduced in traditional values, in self-esteem, in consumption patterns, which apparently those who have governed us, and political parties in general, have not known how to interpret well.
The center-left and the left are advancing today with 10 candidates to the next presidential primaries and most probably they will arrive divided, together with an unpredictable scenario regarding electoral participation, due to the pandemic as well as to the disenchantment and the voluntary vote. With a government abandoned by its parliamentarians, with a single digit in the popular support for President Piñera, with a total discredit internally and without credibility abroad, it is paradoxical that in theory they are seen as probable winners. It can still be avoided that the day after there will be regrets and recriminations for not reaching an understanding under the premise of a minimum program that respects the central values of freedom, democracy and that gathers the main citizen demands that were expressed from the outburst and social protest of 18/O.
The democratic left and its values are centered on social justice, which means the construction of a State that guarantees the basic rights of education, health, housing, pensions, housing, and unrestricted respect for human rights, among other things. Three sectors are unable to reach an agreement. On the one hand, the intransigent left, led by the Chilean CP, with a long tradition in democratic history, which was not willing to join the majority agreements for the plebiscite for a new Constitution. Its candidate is a mayor of a popular district of Santiago, Daniel Jadue, who is very well placed in the polls, but with little chance of winning in an eventual ballot. Then the FA, born from the university movement since 2010. Its leaders and militants are mostly young people who did not live through the civil-military dictatorship or were children. They take democracy and the level of development achieved for granted, being severe critics of the governments headed by former presidents Frei, Lagos and Bachelet. Their candidate, Gabriel Boric, is 35 years old and has yet to collect the signatures to register his candidacy.
The third group of the center-left is formed by the alliance between Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, traditional parties that governed most of the last 30 years. A sector detached from the FA has joined with a candidate, totaling five center-left candidacies. We must include an unusual candidate in the Chilean political scenario and who today leads the polls, the deputy of the Humanist Party, Pamela Jiles, a 60-year-old journalist known as "the grandmother", who today declares to be neither left nor right. She was a member of the PC for many years and made a career in TV show business programs. She gathers the main characteristics with which populism is identified. If there is no understanding, therefore, the first presidential round will have three candidates of the center-left and left, plus a populist and some other marginal candidates. The right will probably run two candidates, including one from the extreme right.
Reaching an agreement today with the PC seems difficult, but in the end, it has always proved to be a pragmatic party. They were part of the second government of former President Michelle Bachelet, but they have wanted to differentiate themselves and set the agenda by joining the strong criticism of the 24 years of center-left governments which they accuse today of "neo-liberal social democracy". It is difficult to find in the world a CP similar to the Chilean one, but there is one among the countries of the European Union: The Communist Party of Portugal (PCP). Both are relics of a time and a world that is already gone. Parties of long history, founded in 1912 and 1921 respectively, with hard periods in clandestinity, proscribed, persecuted and assassinated their militants. Both continue to declare themselves Marxist-Leninists, were faithful followers of the Soviet Union until the last day and have never made any self-criticism of real socialism, nor of the horrors committed. Likewise, they reject any criticism of the few ideological dictatorships that still exist. In electoral terms, the Chilean communists obtained 4.5% of the votes in 2017 and the Portuguese 6.3% in 2019.
Only the will and political responsibility of the party leaders can save the left from a defeat against a right-wing that has demonstrated its will for power and its unwillingness to bring about real changes in the country. Sitting down to negotiate and to form a minimum program on issues where there is already a proximity that satisfies everyone can be a way forward. For this, the first thing should be the cessation of offensive and disqualifying language. Second, do not try to reach a common vision of the last 30 years because it will not be possible. Third, to make a pragmatic effort to act jointly on the main issues to be addressed at the constitutional convention. Fourth, to make a real effort to negotiate the candidacies of deputies and senators in order to guarantee real and committed majorities in the parliament. The millions who voted for the plebiscite demanding a new constitution also want a new country and a new way of doing politics.
(This article was written before the mega election of May 16).