Chilean elections

Image: Thais Cordeiro


Explanations of the tortuous path between the 2019 protests and the elections two years later

Perplexed by a turn that is difficult to explain, Chilean analysts are trying to retrace the path taken by the country between the huge protests in October 2019 against an order that seemed exhausted and the result of the first round of the elections on Sunday, November 21, which seems to reinforce it. there. The candidate of a more shameless right (against which more than a million Chileans protested in the streets two years ago), José Antonio Kast, won Gabriel Boric, a moderate centrist, “of the extreme left” for Kast, by two percentage points (28% to 26%).

to the portal The Weekly Look, “there are no two ways of interpreting the results of the recent elections”. He describes them as “a serious setback for the progressive sectors and an encouraging breath for a more diversified right wing today, with the emergence of new members under the somewhat uncomfortable leadership of José Antonio Kast”. “How can it be explained that, after the resounding failure of the current government, a majority of citizens opt for an extreme right-wing alternative? What has changed since the social upheaval two years ago until now?”, he asks himself.

Despite his own interpretation of what happened, he recognizes that “multiple explanations are being tried for these results”. The most common is the fear of voters in the face of the various manifestations of violence and disorder that they see spreading across the country and that left the account to “progressivism”. An important part of the electorate bought Kast's offer to govern with order and authority and the suggestion that, in December, the choice would be between "freedom and communism". Plausible but simplistic explanations, says the newspaper, “certainly insufficient”. The second round, on December 19, he adds, will be between “restoration” and “reform”, and questions whether “are we transitioning from social irruption to an extreme right government, a close relative of Jair Bolsonaro?”


freedom or communism

As soon as the results of Sunday the 21st were known, Kast returned to press the most strident keys of his campaign. “They are the ones who want to forgive the vandals who destroy,” he said, referring to Boric and his Communist Party (PC) allies, who demand the release of prisoners: politicians, for some; common criminals, to others.

Last August, Jaime Fuentes, a lawyer and spokesperson for the National Association of Relatives of Political Prisoners, said that 77 people were in pre-trial detention, 120 under house arrest and another 5 faced judicial charges for facts linked to the 2019 protests, which they also left hundreds of young people blind or with eye damage due to the particular form of repression, with police firing tear gas canisters in the face.

In this climate, Kast accuses Boric and the PC of “meeting with terrorists and murderers” and of never having been “on the side of the victims of terrorism and crime”. “We don't want to take the path that takes us to Venezuela or Cuba or other complicated countries. We want to reach this developed country from which violence and the pandemic have distanced and stopped us, ”he said in his speech, after the election results were known.

On a Friday night, with the restaurants in the elegant neighborhood of Vitacura full, it's hard to imagine that route, but the rhetorical device works. “If you want, I can take you to narco-restaurants, with Porsches and Maseratis in the parking lot”, one of the most important businessmen in the country told me.

Talk about capital flight. Not necessarily from big capital, but from the savings of liberal professionals, or small businessmen, who are withdrawing their money from Chile. However, there is another reality. And another Santiago too. Kast faced it when he visited the community of Lo Espejo, on Wednesday the 24th, and was met with insults and spitting. He had to cancel his scheduled press conference.

Lo Espejo is the “other” Santiago. That of poverty and overcrowding. Where, on a plot of 180 square meters and in social housing, up to 30 people live. Last week, the day before the elections, Osvaldo Torres, anthropologist, director of the foundation common house, answered me if the last 30 years had been the best in Chile's history (as Ernesto Ottone, a former adviser to President Ricardo Lagos, said), saying that it depended on where you lived. “Tell me where you live and you'll have the answer if they went or not. If you live in a 40 square meter apartment, in social housing, with three children, this is not true. If you live surrounded by drug trafficking, by violence, these are not the best 30 years of your life”.

Violence and drug trafficking are two recurring themes in the debate and conversations in Santiago. For those who come from afar, it never ceases to surprise. In a few days it is not easy to perceive them in all their dimensions, but there is no doubt that they are issues that drive the campaign.


at the extremes

For Luis Marcó, also in The Weekly Look, “the presidential elections will be defined in extremes, in counterpoints that do not admit half paints: order versus hope, restoration or structural change, security or inclusion, tax cuts or industry unionism…, and so on”. “We came from a new political map, drawn by an apparently defining irruption. Is that true?” he asks. Apparently no.

For Marcó himself, the Chile of the feminist group Las Thesis, 40 hours of work, or guaranteed rights, is based on a “post-modern” cultural change. But “countercultures infiltrate the interstices”. He speaks of a diversity of “anarchists, drug traffickers, members of organized supporters or young people outraged by the National Service for Minors (Sename)”. "They have their own aesthetic and their own logic of violence."

For Gonzalo Martner, economist, ally of Boric, candidate for senator (not elected), “the strengthening of the extreme right is currently taking place in Chile, even though it implies a great setback for the rights of women and diversity, which the results of the constitutional plebiscite and the election of the Convention made us think that they had advanced to stay”. And although he also proposes an advance in the most extreme neoliberal forms, “which consists of lowering taxes for the richest, weakening social policies (including maintenance of the AFP [Pension Fund Administrators] pension system), privatizing the few existing public companies (including the state-owned copper company CODELCO), deregulate labor legislation in favor of employers and ignore the fight against climate change or environmental and animal protection”.


October or the “Social Awakening”

Efrén Osorio, spokesperson for the Humanist Action party and president of the Moebius Foundation, referred to what, for him, is the “heart of the matter”: “to understand well what happened with the electoral triumph of the ultra-rightist Kast, it is necessary understand what happened in that October of the so-called irruption or social awakening”. The social overflow of October 2019 – says Osorio – “gathered unemployed and liberal professionals, wage earners and shopkeepers in the streets. There were the young people indebted by the CAE [Crédito com Aval do Estado] (a system of evaluating the cost of credits), the adults who cannot take care of their sick parents and the elderly who survive on miserable pensions, the sexual diversity discriminated against along with the average entrepreneurs suffocated by the banks”.

But, he adds, “there was also the organized lumpen, drug trafficking networks and infiltrated police, investigators and perhaps some other extreme right-wing group that operates in the shadows”. “I am not minimizing or detracting from that Chilean October that shook the world”. “I just say that it is necessary to characterize it well. That October was a very heterogeneous social outpouring of unusual social energy, but far from being a revolutionary moment. It was mainly a protest”.

In his opinion, what was common among the millions of Chileans who protested was a feeling of anger and tiredness “in the face of injustice, marginalization and abuse that all institutions (parties, churches, press, football, armed forces, etc.) .) and that is present in the depoliticized popular sectors, in the middle layers of liberal professionals and even in the average businessmen”. Osorio is part of the team of deputy Tomás Hirsh, the only representative of the left re-elected in the more conservative region of Santiago. Boric's supporter, he explains why they opposed the November 2020 agreement, through which the leaders of the political parties decided to call a plebiscite to consult Chileans on the new Constitution. “We opposed it because it was signed on the back of the so-called social movement”. “Between the October 18th of Santiago in flames and the November summit agreement, signed while it was still being drafted, is the October 25th million people march.” And he adds that “to romanticize looting and violence as revolutionary, in addition to the infiltrators that also exist, is to make a mistake in the diagnosis, is to cunningly force reality to make it resemble the romantic yearnings of some, is to present the 'good live' to fascism”.


Dead fish on a deserted beach

This is how Odette Magnet sees the political moment in Chile. Journalist and writer, former press attaché at the Chilean embassies in Washington and London, for her “the country is not starting, with two very different projects, with no hint of unity. Bundled. Cornered. Schizophrenic. The fear of some faces the thirst for change in others”.

This is what he calls “the morning after hangover”. “Dead fish on the slope of a deserted beach. A deeply polarized country”. There is no point of convergence. “The new political map that emerges after these elections shows a picture of dispersion and political disintegration that conspires against the future governance of the country. That the right has obtained half of the Senate and retains a high representation in the Chamber of Deputies, anticipates a serious obstacle to the structural changes proposed by the option of Gabriel Boric”, he said. The Weekly Look.

Magnet summarizes the scenario this way: “Kast, the common sense candidate, as he likes to define himself, is against the new Constitution, free university education, equal marriage, free abortion, feminism, among other things. In other words, a good part of the demands of social irruption”. “He promoted the terror campaign and manipulated the keys of fear with great skill. He fears immigrants, job insecurity, delinquency, communism. Fear. He based his speech on order, economic growth and freedom, freedom, freedom.”

But not all spaces are occupied by Kast. Magnet believes that the echoes of the social upheaval of two years ago "are far from fading". It reminds us that Boric embodies the demands of this irruption. “It capitalized on the discontent that demands an end to abuses and corruption and promotes real changes in the tax, health, education and pension systems. It defends a society with greater social justice and dignified, inclusive and equal proposals, a more present State”.


The next day

The next day was Monday, November 22nd. Both – Boric and Kast – left to broaden their bases. With 28% of the vote, Kast immediately joined, albeit not without some tensions, the forces of the conservative governing coalition – National Renovation (RN) and Independiente Democratic Union (UDI) – who ran together in the elections under the candidacy of Sebastián Sichel. There are conservative sectors that are not very comfortable with Kast's conservatism. But Boric looks worse for them. Together, they add up to 41%.

To these it is possible to add the votes of the strange candidate Franco Parisi, an absentee candidate (he lives in the United States and was not in the country for the campaign). He won 13% of the vote, practically tied with Sichel. But Parisi spoke on twitter and said: “What happened on October 18 (2019) is because people got upset with the abuses of the right… What happened is that they killed the illusion of public education, of home ownership, of power emerge… There is no place in Chile for the extreme right… Kast cannot govern”.

Boric starts with his 26% from the first round. He added the support of Marco Enríquez-Ominami of the Progressive Party: 7,6%, and Eduardo Artés: 1,4%. His big move was towards the Christian Democracy, a traditional party that has governed Chile on more than one occasion, but which has seen its support undermined. Its candidate, Yasna Provoste, supported by the Socialist Party, came in fifth with 11,7%. They are votes that will lean mostly towards Boric, but – as in all this arithmetic – it is not certain that all. A well-balanced scenario, in which one cannot forget the abstention of 53% in the first round. On December 19, Chile will decide which path it wants to follow.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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