Chile and the lesser evil

The result of the first electoral round in Chile seems to confirm the culmination of the gradual evaporation of the political and economic oasis that it held during the last three decades. While a series of events such as the 2019 protest movement, the corruption scandals surrounding the administration of President Piñera, and growing inequality had already meant significant wear and tear, these first results speak of a predicted but significant omen: the breakdown of the Chilean political status quo.

Every break is accompanied by a period of impending change and uncertainty. It is not for nothing that this situation has led two candidates at opposite poles of the political spectrum to the fore. The results of the election of the Constituent Assembly that is currently drafting the Magna Carta that will govern the country already anticipated a consistent predilection for independent and non-establishment candidates. The center-left and center-right coalitions that characterized the party system after the democratic transition period lost the confidence of the electorate, and with it, the position of command.

The electoral outcome will largely depend on how both contenders tailor their messages in the coming weeks. Both the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast and the Social Democrat Gabriel Boric must capitalize on those voters at the center of the spectrum. It is complex to think about the consolidation of this moderate balance in the face of the antagonistic messages that have characterized their campaigns. It is undeniable that both Kast’s message of law and order and Boric’s promise of social equality and wealth redistribution are effective insofar as they appeal to the sentiments and hopes of their respective constituencies. However, the current problems such as the socio-economic ravages of the pandemic, the state of emergency derived from clashes with the Mapuche community and the migratory crisis merit an agenda beyond black and white positions.

Regardless of the outcome, there are at least two challenges ahead in terms of governance. On the one hand, if the new constitution is approved in the plebiscite that will take place next year, the winning candidate will have to adapt his administration to a completely different institutional order, since reforms are being proposed in the entire political and legislative system. and judicial. Although it has not been contemplated so far, the new rules of the game could even call for new elections in this effort to move from a strongly presidential system to a parliamentary one. On the other hand, despite having achieved its main objective, the flame that ignited the mass protests two years ago is still alive. Avoiding putting all the demands of different sectors into the law could relive similar episodes in the short term.

Faced with this complex situation, much has been said about polarization at this juncture. However, the evidence points to a less simplistic and more alarming problem. Although in the political field an extreme and agitated climate is perceived, it would be risky to speak of a polarized society. On the one hand, 53% of abstention shows a faith of disinterest and disenchantment. Likewise, both the unexpected score achieved by the anti-system candidate Franco Parisi and the wide fragmentation of the next congress reflect the multiple demands that mobilize the electorate.

The lesser evil phenomenon seems to characterize a large part of the Latin American continent and this has not been the exception. In a region with pressing challenges, Chilean voices cry out for more pragmatism and less empty rhetoric.


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