Chile’s presidential elections are due to be held on November 17 in a special political setting. Since the return to democracy in 1988, Chile’s institutional politics have always been divided into two powerful party coalitions: the Concertacion (centre and left-wing parties), and the Chilean Alliance (right-wing parties). Since 2006, and especially during the last few years (during Sebastian Pinera’s current presidency), new arrangements of citizenship brought into question this entrenched political order. By citizenship, I mean a group’s access to expressing their political rights through institutional political representation. Therefore, citizenship expresses how much people feel represented by political institutions. How Chileans relate to the state and other institutions has changed in the past years, and this election expresses those shifts. This election is historically unique because it brought to the fore new parties and novel independent candidates. Topics never before discussed by presidential candidates have been addressed. These new socio-political developments are particularly visible on the left.
One of the main factors that will dominate the November 17 elections is that none of the traditionally powerful coalitions represent an answer to major national issues. (Candidates affiliations and political orientations can be found here.)
Changes in the socio-political configuration of Chile began with the growing student movement which periodically took to the streets in the past 12 years.
Centre-left parties (excluding the Communist Party) united during the 1980s in order to defeat the dictatorship in a coalition called Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy). Despite many people’s expectations that they would promote egalitarianism and justice in the country after the dictatorship, the Concertacion managed to deepen Chile’s exclusionary and neo-liberal system.
Although once inspirational and progressive, the Concertacion became engrained in the state’s bureaucratic structure. Accordingly, they got involved in collusion and corruption scandals, gave little salience to the transitional justice process, increasingly based strategies on electoral research, and had a strong top-down emphasis that neglected people’s empowerment.
During the Concertacion period of rule, authorities managed to open Chile’s market through a large number of free trade agreements (Chile holds 22 commercial agreements with 60 countries, including the US, China, and the EU).
Reacting to their low popularity, the Concertacion recently decided to change their name, creating a new coalition: New Majority. The New Majority includes all the centre-left Concertacion parties, as well as the Communist party.
On the other side of the spectrum, Chilean Alliance has also lost representation, especially among the right-wing youth. The Alliance demonstrated that it is ready to reject any progressive initiative in terms of civil or social rights, moving away from the more liberal branches of the right (leading a centre-right wing movement, neo-liberal Bellolio represents such liberal ideals [Sp]).
Additionally, charismatic right-wing candidate Laurence Golborne, stepped down after a fraud scandal involving the company he led for years, effected more than 600,000 consumers. The Chilean Alliance was left with no choice but a bureaucratic reaction, diminishing their leadership and opening spaces for alternative candidates, like Franco Parisi.