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Recent Chilean Elections

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Sat, 3 Nov 2012 12:08:50 -0300

Last weekend we had local (municipal) elections, here in Chile.  They were
pretty interesting...

Politics in Chile are built on necessary compromise - it is how the country
has moved on from a polarizing past.  For years a left-leaning coalition was
in power at the national level, but that changed with the last presidential
elections, famously, when we gained a right-wing predsident (Pinera).  But
since then, national politics has been curiously broken.  There is a lot of
frustrated discontent (especially about education); the economic basics seem
OK, but both government and opposition seem largely lost.  National politics
in Chile has become scattered and incoherent.


At the local level things look a little different because social classes tend
to group together in different parts of the Santiago (forgive me, but I live
in Santiago, which dominates Chilean news, so have little knowledge of
elsewhere).  So you get the "classic" divide where the richest and poorest
neighbourhoods tend to elect right-leaning candidates, while more middle-class
neighbourhoods tends to be left-leaning (and candidates are usually associated
with the national parties).  So municipal politics tend to be more polarised
and diverse.

Now I live in an "old money" area of Santiago, called Providencia - just down
the road from the Japanese embassy.  This ranges from a busy shopping area in
the north to very nice residential areas further south.  And for a long time
the mayor has been an ex-member of Pinochet's secret police (DINA), Cristian
Labbe.

As I said, politics in Chile are based on necessary compromise.  It may seem
odd to have an (ex-)secret policeman as mayor, but the junta had (and still
has, in some areas) significant popular support, particularly from the more
wealthy classes.  Since older, richer people live in this area (younger,
richer people with families have moved to the suburbs) this was, in Chilean
terms, a "natural" state of affairs.


Maybe things would have continued in that way.  But in November last year
(2011), Labbe arranged (or, at least, approved), in public buildings (the
local sports centre) a tribute to Miguel Krassnoff (part of the publicity for
his biography), another ex-DINA secret policeman, who has been convicted and
jailed (here in Chile) for various human-rights related crimes that occurred
during the dictatorship.

To many here, that seemed a little too much.  The following day, I registered
my application to vote (almost anyone who has lived in Chile for sufficient
time can vote here).


Almost a year later, Josefa Errazuriz stood for election against Labbe, here
in Providencia.  She was not a famous person, was not associated with any
major political party, and was widely regarded as irrelevant.  But she was a
good compromise candidate, with open, sensible positions that appealed to a
wide range of people.  And, at the same time, she was supported by an
enthusiastic, young group of supporters.

Meanwhile, in the background, the electoral reform had changed some of the
ground rules of the political process.  It used to be that registration to
vote was optional, but that voting was compulsory for registered voters.  That
changed to make voting optional.

This change to the law had an unexpected effect, that seems obvious in
retrospect - people who didn't care about politics didn't bother to vote.  The
turnout was very low.  Conversely, those that did care - those that had a
reason to be angry - did vote.

And Labbe, contrary to all expectations and polls, lost.


That is not the only change.  In the centre of Santiago another female,
centre-left candidate won what has been traditionally a safe right-wing seat.
And a grand-daughter of Allende (the president who was killed in the coup) won
a position further south.

Yet this does not appear to be a swing to the doctrinaire left.  The right
still won many places, and few feel that the people I mentioned won because
they were "leftists".  Rather, they seemed to be decent candidates who were
offering something new - a sense of compromise, discussion, and openness.  If
anything, it feels like a move to the middle.

And about time.  A new generation, that did not live under the dictatorship,
is now old enough to vote.  I wish them luck.

Andrew

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