A major triumph for progressive forces in Chile

By Francisco Salinas

There is joy amongst progressive forces in Chile. Last Sunday, May 16th, provided historic results for independents, the left and representatives of social movements at the mega-election where the Chilean people voted to choose the assembly in charge of writing a new constitution for the country, alongside regional governors, mayors and town councillors.

The right-wing governing coalition suffered a crushing defeat from this plethora of social forces, obtaining only 37 of the 54 elected constituents they needed to be able to overrule a progressive constitution, along with zero governors and losing many key boroughs  – such as Viña del Mar, Ñuñoa, Santiago, Maipú, among others – to left-wing parties like the Communist Party and participants of the Broad Front (Frente Amplio), as well as independents (see details, here). In short, many of the votes for the “apruebo” (approval) in the constitutional referendum translated into votes for representatives of the progressive front.

Not only the right but also most third-way democratic parties and the centre – socialists, Christian Democracy, etc. – saw a huge reduction in their share of power as a result of this election. Voters punished traditional parties in favour of independent candidates such as Giovanna Grandon – famous as “Aunt Pikachu” for her outfit at social protests – and political parties that have pushed more radical reforms to Chile’s neoliberal model.

The results were a huge surprise for many, not only because of the shrinking of more traditional political forces, except for the Communist Party, but because independent candidates are going to be the main protagonists in this constituent moment and the administration of many municipalities.

Additionally, this election made official the representation of indigenous groups in the writing of the new constitution. There were 17 protected seats for these people, many of whom are campaigning for the return of their lands and the recognition of the country as multinational. The person with the most votes in this group was Machi Francisca Linconao, a Mapuche spiritual leader who was unjustly charged and linked to acts of murder and terrorism. Probably, as a symbolic reparation and a symbol of a new Chile, some even think of her as a good candidate to chair the assembly.

Last but not least, this was a historical election because of gender achievements. Months before the election the parliament agreed on gender parity among the elected representatives in each list for constituents. This amendment aimed at reducing the gap between men and women in political decisions – for instance, in the last parliamentary election 77% of the elected members were men. In contrast with traditional tendencies, on this occasion, women received more votes than men and surprisingly the gender parity policy ended benefiting men. The effects of a strong feminist agenda is also a crucial element in this election.

Overall, plurality and a desire for social justice are a mark of this newly elected body. Constanza Schönhaut, elected representative for the constituent assembly from left-wing party Convergencia Social (Social Convergence) expressed the following when I her asked to give her insights about the election for this report:

“These results represent an overwhelming victory for the ideas of change that have been underway in social mobilisations for over 15 years. These had their high point during October 18th’s social outburst. Some people gave us up for dead, that we were not representative, that we were polarising. But the truth is that we were constructing and articulating a social force that knows that changes have to be made, but that was still not a majority.

“Today we are all contributing to finding each other and constructing a majority that expresses the diversity of political and social organisation in a convention that will enable us to open a new cycle in Chile. It will enable us to twist and shift the neoliberal paradigm in Chile. And the first challenge that we will have is to assure conditions for the active participation of citizens.

“We are confident that this constituent process has to face the people; it has to include all the voices that have been excluded during the last 30 to 40 years. It has to be done together with the feminists, with the ecologists, with the different unions, with the councils and different territorial organisations. And that is where we will be: because we need a constituent assembly that is open and a new Constitution that becomes a useful tool to achieve social justice.”

Jennifer Pérez, elected representative for the left-wing party Igualdad (Equality) for the Town Council of Independencia, a middle and low-income borough in Santiago, told me the following:

“We are very happy that the outcome of the organisation surrounding the constituent, sovereign and popular movement of the borough of Independencia was being able to give birth to a people’s councillor. It has been hard work that has its roots in the neighbourhoods, from the borough’s slumps and has been able to genuinely represent the diversity in the territory.

“We think that today we can already make some important analyses of the elections and I can guarantee that in other territories that was the perfect recipe: organising collective spaces that have the potential to transcend the institutions. Those were the projects that won, without a doubt. So, this will be a big challenge and a process that will provide us with great lessons. The people always respond when the work is genuine and is transparent to them.”

Overall, this is probably the most important and impressive result for the people in Chile’s elections since the 1988 referendum that marked the return of democracy and even, perhaps, since Salvador Allende was democratically elected to fulfil a socialist project. Now, in the 21st century, the Chilean people are finding new ways to achieve social justice, represented by a heterogeneous assemblage of political actors who are attempting change by democratic means.

Francisco Salinas is the co-editor of the Social Theory Notebooks of the Laboratory of Social Transformations at the Diego Portales University.

Image: Mediabanco Agencia (CC BY 2.0)

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