The changes in the Chilean political situation provoked a great surprise in the region. The results of the elections for the Constitutional Council, on Sunday 7 May, produced headlines that highlighted a spectacular turnaround. The Spanish newspaper El País ran an editorial entitled “Volantazo en Chile”, the first line of which read: “Sunday’s elections in Chile have turned the political landscape upside down”. And Chilean analyst Claudio Fuentes asked: “How to explain the abrupt shift from a progressive wave to a conservative undertow in Chile?”
As is often the case, the problem does not lie in the difficulty of the answer, but in the error on which the question is based. In Chile, there was no turnaround in the political scenario, which had already been clearly shored up since the defeat of the plebiscite last September, when two thirds of the electorate rejected the previous constitutional proposal, prepared by a Constitutional Council that was mostly left-wing. But, above all, the starting point of the question is unfounded, because there was no progressive wave with the election of Boric, as was proclaimed at the time.
To better understand the political mirage that occurred at the time, it is necessary to examine two main components. The first refers to the true dimension of the electoral victory. If, on that occasion, only 56% of the electorate had voted and Boric obtained little more than half of those votes, that means that the president-elect had only 27% of the total electorate. But in addition, opinion polls showed that seven out of ten of the almost three million votes for his candidacy in that second round came from other (centre-left) parties, which would not follow Boric in the future. That is, Boric’s “broad election tide” only surpassed a fifth of the electorate.
The other element of the mirage alludes to the idea that support for Boric was a direct product of the unstoppable spirit of the social explosion of 2019. Opinion polls showed that support for what happened in 2019 was far less than had been assumed. Several observers noted that the achievements had been “overcelebrated”. In fact, more than half of the Chilean population had a critical view of what had happened.
The other complementary problem that Boric faced was that he was in a minority in Congress. A few months later, this led to the rejection of the tax reform, his star project, with which he intended to raise 3.6% of GDP in four years, around US$ 10 billion, which would allow him to develop his socioeconomic program. This confirmed that Boric could not count on the continued support of the progressive forces that allowed him to win the presidential elections.
As such, it is difficult to claim that Chile has undergone a dramatic shift from a progressive wave to a purely conservative one. In any case, the election accentuated the conservative trend, something that is also debatable. It is true that the Republican Party of Kast obtained almost half of the seats in the Council and that its 23 seats, added to the 11 obtained by the traditional right, leave in its hands the configuration of the new Chilean Constitution.
Therefore, the interpretation that the result means a shift of the Chilean electorate to the extreme right is quite risky. In fact, this electoral result could also mean that deep Chile has definitively turned its back on Boric’s government and manifests itself by distancing itself as much as possible from its political project, which it considers very radical.
It should not be forgotten that, in most countries in the region, there is an important gap between the political attitudes of active minorities and those of the deep country. This is a gap that can increase in size in certain historical contexts. In this context, everything seems to indicate that Chile is going through one of these conjunctures.
Thus, in political activities carried out by active minorities, the left tendency predominates, as happened in the 2019 protests. clearly. In the case of Chile, there is a lot of study into the existence of pockets of citizens with a very low quality political culture, refractory to politics, an inheritance in good measure of the mark coming from the Pinochet experience.
But this conservative orientation of deep Chile should not lead to the conclusion that the majority of the Chilean electorate rejects the promulgation of a democratic Constitution that leaves behind the current one, created during the dictatorship. Indeed, it would not be surprising if, in the end, the electorate moved towards a centrist solution, perhaps even towards a reduced recovery of Chile’s old political tradition of the “three thirds” between right, center and left.
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