They face an unprecedented dilemma in the post-Pinochet era
HAVANA TIMES – This Sunday, December 19, the Chilean electorate will have to resolve a dilemma unprecedented since the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in 1990: either open the doors of the government to the young generations of the left that emerged in the last decade or go back in history to legitimize the continuity of an economic neoliberalism that is nourished politically by ultra-conservativism.
Gabriel Boric, 35, a lawyer born in the southern city of Punta Arenas, is the candidate of the Apruebo-Dignidad (I support dignity coalition), which flies the flags of broad renovation, while another lawyer José Antonio Kast (Santiago, 55, standard-bearer of the Frente Social Cristiano, embodies in his career the vindication of the work and ideology of the military regime, installed by a bloody coup d’état in 1973.
It will either be the end of, or the resurgence of Pinochetism, which has been present the last 31 years as a shadow of a transition that seems eternal. The seven governments that have alternated in power since 1990, in one way or another, respected in an undeclared pact, a status quo inherited from the dictatorial regime, with variables of inclination towards the left or the right, but always betting on a drawn-out center.
The Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia, defined as center-left convergence, governed with the Christian Democrats under Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), while socialist tendencies did so with Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) and Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010 and 2014-2018), although her last administration was under the New Majority pact, which included the Communist Party (PC).
The right, which has built various blocs around the Renovaciòn Nacional (RN) and Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI) parties plus other smaller groups, won the presidency twice (2010-2014 and 2018-2022) with businessman Sebastian Piñera. In the nomenclature of the press and politics RN and UDI are characterized as center-right.
It was in the first Piñera government that Boric’s generation jumped onto the scene, in the context of the massive mobilizations for free higher education, which was initiated by the current communist deputy Camila Vallejo, then president of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile.
This university struggle saw the beginnings of various left-wing collectives that gave birth to the Frente Amplio, (Broad Front), a new protagonist that in the first round of the presidential elections of 2017 nominated the journalist Beatriz Sánchez and came in third place with more than 20% of the votes.
Piñera’s first government found itself up against the wall in 2011 by the movement against the privatization of universities, one of the legacies of the dictatorship. And Piñero saw his current, second government stagger even more with the social explosion that began on October 18, 2019, which forced a transversal agreement of the political forces to plebiscite the end of the Pinochet Constitution and elaborate a new fundamental charter through a Constitutional Convention.
It was during this process that Apruebo Dignidad was born as an alliance of the four parties of the Broad Front, the Communist Party, the Green Regionalist Federation, Humanist Action and other parties and social movements. They took their name from the constitutional plebiscite of October 25, 2020, where 78% of the electorate marked “I approve” on the ballot to repeal the Pinochet Constitution of 1980.
Kast, on the other hand, positioned himself as the champion of the “Rejection” vote and began a campaign critical of Piñera, accusing him of giving in to the acts of violence and vandalism produced during the social outbreak. He called him “soft,” despite the fact that the Police repression of the demonstrations left more than 300 people with total or partial blindness in addition to other human rights abuses.
Kast, the son of a German army officer and militant of the Nazi party during the Second World War, served four terms (2002-2014) as a deputy for the UDI. He broke with that party in 2016 to run as an independent candidate in the presidential elections of 2017, where he came in fourth among eight candidates with almost 8% of the votes.
Declared a friend of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, interlocutor of VOX of Spain and confessed admirer of Donald Trump, Kast founded the Republican Action Movement that in 2019 became the Republican Party, with which he is running for the presidency today, after obtaining the highest majority in the first round of November 21 with 27.91%, followed by Boric (25.82%).
The end of the post-Pinochet pact
The center-left and center-right, which has always contested power since 1990, were left off the December 19 runoff ballot in a phenomenon that analysts attribute to disenchantment with the traditional parties in Chile, a country where voter turnout only exceeded 50% of the voter roll in the October 2020 plebiscite.
The Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy and the Radical Party, pillars of the former post-Pinochet governments, together with the Progressive Party (PRO), support Boric, while the UDI, RN and Evópoli (Political Evolution) back Kast. The protagonists of yesterday appear today only as secondary support in this unprecedented presidential scenario.
In the first round, the economist Franco Parisi, candidate of his People’s Party (PDG) came in third place with 12.81% of the votes. The populist, living in the United States, and with a pending court case for unpaid alimony to his ex-wife, Parisi did not throw his support to either candidate in the runoff.
But more than the unknown of Parisi’s voters, the suspense before the voting is nourished by two factors: the level of voter participation, which in the first round was only 46%, and the voters’ own behavior in the last elections that to external observers seems quite schizophrenic.
Indeed, after the overwhelming triumph of Apruebo in the plebiscite of October 2020, the balance remained tilted to the left and the social movements in the elections of May 15 and 16, where the 155 delegates for the Constitutional Convention were elected. There, the right failed in its eagerness to control at least a third to exercise veto power in decisions.
In the same elections, the mayors and councils of the 345 municipalities were elected and the governors of the 16 regions were elected for the first time, also with broad support for the left and the center-left, in particular the Socialist Party.
However, in the parliamentary elections coinciding with the first presidential round in November, the traditional right recovered positions, adding deputies and senators of the Republican Party. On the left, the Communist Party doubled its number of deputies to 12 and elected two senators for the first time since the end of the dictatorship, but the Broad Front did not increase its parliamentary strength.
Tie in the Legislature
Thus, the president who assumes office on March 11, 2022, whether Boric or Kast, will have to work with a Legislative Branch whose forces are tied regarding change or continuity, between the 43 senators and the 155 deputies, which will give a defining role to two independents in the Senate and the unpredictable six representatives of Parsis’ People’s Party in the Chamber of Deputies.
The work of the Constitutional Convention, whose proposal for a new fundamental charter will be submitted to a ratification plebiscite in June 2022, will be decisive for the next president. Undoubtedly, Boric is in harmony with the goal of providing Chile with a new constitution that definitively breaks with the legacy of Pinochet.
In this horizon of complex challenges, the campaign for the presidential runoff has generated a kind of rebirth of the center, with both candidates seeking the vote of the most moderate sectors. In the case of Boric he is responding to support provided by the parties of the center-left and former presidents such as Michelle Bachelet and Ricardo Lagos.
For Kast, the inclination to the so-called center-right has led him to modify his original reactionary program with strong sexist content, climate change denial, undisguised praise for Pinochet and his dictatorship, and xenophobic and repressive proposals that earned him labels of neo-Nazi and “facho” from his adversaries.
Who will be more plausible for the volatile Chilean electorate: Boric or Kast? Will young people active in street protests and distrustful of parties and elections, vote? Will offers of social change, or promises of order and economic progress, draw more support?
Such questions will be answered on Sunday night, December 19, when the final votes are counted, ushering in a new phase in the lives of the 19 million Chileans, who, perhaps like no other Latin American country, have lived a pandemic accompanied by social outbreaks and numerous calls to the polls.