Written by Isabel Plá Jarufe, Vice-President, Independent Democratic Union and Former Minister for Women, Chile
Today, Chile is experiencing a political megaquake, following the results of the elections on Sunday, May 17thand a landslide victory for the left. After repeated changes to the date of the elections, citizens were called to elect those who will make up the Convention that will draft a new Constitution, regional governors (a new post in our political system), mayors, and councillors.
A sector of the centre-right blames the defeat on the path opened in Chile in November 2019, when – in the midst of a social crisis and of violence such as we have never seen before in the country – the political parties (with the exception of the Communist Party) sealed the Agreement for a New Constitution and Peace. However, this explanation is limited – the triumph of the left had been brewing for a long time.
In the last 30 years, as a result of economic progress, Chilean society has undergone profound changes: a more educated citizenry that is more connected to the world, more demanding, and increasingly critical of institutions and the political system. Aspirations are changing. There is a strong concern for gender equality, the environment, and communities, as well as a valuing of free time, and the perception of insecurity of a middle class that has consolidated itself. There are also fears of poverty in the event of income loss or high-cost illness. And there is crime resulting from a perceived environment of impunity.
On Sunday, we saw the victory of a radical left with diverse expressions (political, cultural, environmental, social) that recognized these changes well in advance. It won a left mandate through a merciless narrative of identifying the enemy, a deployment in social networks, and with a talent for connecting with anger and frustration. The latter are not new, but they are no longer disguised. There was also a call on Chileans to choose between the demands of responsibility, work, savings, etc., and the longed-for “good living.”
The most evident dimension of what Chile is experiencing today is the rejection of traditional politics, marked by the appropriation of power to occupy positions, a territorial uprooting, and self-absorption in matters that are only of concern to politicians. Opinion polls all warned of this, and in October the Criteria survey showed that 84% of Chileans preferred that the Constituent Convention be made up “mostly” of independent candidates.
A distinct point is the surrender of consensus on the economy, democracy and freedoms, leaving the field open to demagogy and the politics of emotions. And the responsibilities are shared, with a centre-left that, despite having governed Chile successfully for three decades and led an impeccable transition, gave the interpretation of history to an extreme left that never abandoned its symbols: the legitimization of violence, class struggle, and “moving forward without compromise.” The centre-right gradually lost intellectual consistency, refused to understand social change, and naively believed that simple progress alone explained the ideas that made it possible.
“Chile Vamos,” the coalition of the Chilean centre-right, is making an effort to interpret what has happened coherently and to design a path to follow towards the presidential and parliamentary elections. However, the fundamental task is much more than electoral; it will not be accomplished in four months, nor within four walls. It is time for the centre-right in Latin America to take a serious look at what is happening and to better articulate itself, to recover the banners of freedom and of progress without exclusion.