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Military


Political Parties

Presidential Election Vote

(in %) 19891993 1999
1st round
1999
2nd round(2)
2005
1st round
2005
2nd round(2)
2009
1st round
2009
2nd round(2)
Center-Left
(Concertación)
55.258.048.051.346.053.529.648.4
Center-Right
(Coalición por el Cambio)
29.430.6 (1) 47.548.748.6 (1) 46.544.151.6
Left
(Juntos Podemos Más)
4.73.2 6.2
Humanists and
Green Party
6.71.0 5.4
Centrist Union
(Unión de Centro Centro)
15.4 0.4
Independent

20.1

(1) Aggregate percentage of two center-right presidential candidates.
(2) The second round took place in January of the following year.


Congressional Elections (Chamber of Deputies)

(in % of votes at the national level)
1989 1993 1997 2001 2005 2009
Center-Left
(Concertación)
51.5 55.4 50.5 47.9 51.8 44.4
(1)
Center-Right
(Coalición por el Cambio)
34.2 36.7 36.3 44.3 38.7 43.4
Left

5.3 6.4 7.5 5.2 7.4
(1)
Humanists and Greens

1.4 2.9 1.14.6
Centrist Union
(Unión de Centro Centro)
2.62.1
Others

6.4 0.1 0.7 1.5 2.1 7.6
(1) In the 2009 Congressional election, the Concertación and the Communist Party campaigned together as an electoral alliance.

The intense politicization of modern Chile has its roots in the nineteenth century. As Chile's political parties grew, they attracted followers not only on the basis of ideology but also on the basis of patronclient relationships between candidates and voters. These ties were particularly important at the local level, where mediation with government agencies, provision of public employment, and delivery of public services were more crucial than ideological battles waged on the national stage. Over generations, these bonds became tightly woven, producing within the parties fervent and exclusive subcultures nurtured in the family, the community, and the workplace. As a result, by the mid-twentieth century the parties had politicized schools, unions, professional associations, the media, and virtually all other components of national life.

Republican political institutions took root in Chile in the nineteenth century before new social groups demanded participation. Contenders from the middle and lower classes gradually were assimilated into an accommodating political system in which most disputes were settled peacefully, although disruptions related to the demands of workers often met a harsh, violent response. The system expanded to incorporate more and more competing regional, anticlerical, and economic elites in the nineteenth century. The middle classes gained political offices and welfare benefits in the opening decades of the twentieth century. From the 1920s to the 1940s, urban laborers obtained unionization rights and participated in reformist governments. In the 1950s, women finally exercised full suffrage and became a decisive electoral force. And by the 1960s, rural workers achieved influence with reformist parties, widespread unionization, and land reform.

As the political system evolved, groups divided on various issues. The first and most important in the nineteenth century was the role of the Roman Catholic Church in political, social, and economic affairs. Neither of the two major parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, opposed the practice of Catholicism. However, the Conservatives defended the church's secular prerogatives; the Liberals (and later the Nationals, Radicals, Democrats, and Marxists) took anticlerical positions.

A second source of friction was regionalism, although less virulent than in some larger Latin American countries. In the north and south, reform groups became powerful, especially the Conservatives holding sway in Chile's Central Valley (Valle Central), who advocated opposition to the establishment. Regional groups made a significant impact on political life in Chile: they mobilized repeated rebellions against the central government from the 1830s through the 1850s; helped replace a centralizing president with a political system dominated by the National Congress (hereafter, Congress) and local bosses in the 1890s; elected Arturo Alessandri Palma (1920-24, 1925, 1932-38) as the chief executive representing the north against the central oligarchy in 1920; and cast exceptional percentages of their ballots for reformist and leftist candidates (especially Radicals, Communists, and Socialists) from the 1920s to the 1970s. Throughout the twentieth century, leaders outside Santiago also pleaded for administrative decentralization until the Pinochet government devolved greater authority on provincial and municipal governments and even moved Congress from Santiago to Valparaíso.

The third issue dividing Chileans -- social class -- grew in importance from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Although both the Conservatives and the Liberals represented the upper stratum, in the nineteenth century the Radicals began to speak on behalf of many in the middle class, and the Democrats built a base among urban artisans and workers. In the twentieth century, the Socialists and Communists became the leaders of organized labor. Along with the Christian Democratic Party, these parties attracted adherents among impoverished people in the countryside and the urban slums.

Major parties are grouped into two large coalitions: 1) the center-left "Concertacion", which includes the Christian Democrat Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy, and the Radical Social Democratic Party; and 2) the center-right "Alliance for Chile" (or “Alianza”), also called the “Coalition for Change,” which includes the National Renewal Party and the Independent Democratic Union. The Communist Party, the Humanist Party and a number of smaller parties formed the "Together We Can" coalition in 2004, which ran presidential candidates in 2005 and 2009. A new center-left party, "Chile-First," was established in October 2007. Another left party, “Progressive Party” (PRO) began its official legalization process in February 2011.

Due to its unique and complicated binomial electoral system, figuring out which political forces won and lost congressional elections in Chile is not simple. Chilean observers often look at three metrics when assessing the performance of political parties and coalitions in Chile's congressional elections: the total number of seats each coalition has in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the total number of ballots cast for conservative vs. progressive congressional candidates, and the number of districts in which a political coalition was able to "double," i.e. win both of the Senate or Chamber seats assigned to a district. By these standards, Chile's conservative coalition, Alianza, gained over the center-left Concertacion coalition that had dominated Chilean politics for the last twenty years.

The battle for seats in Congress was essentially a draw in 2009 , with each coalition winning an advantage in one of the Chilean parliament's two houses. In the Senate, where half of the 38 seats were up for election, the Concertacion regained a slim majority and will begin the new legislative season with 19 seats vs. 17 for Alianza. The remaining two seats are filled by independents. In the Chamber, where all 120 seats were up for election, the Alianza came out on top with 58 candidates elected vs. 54 for the Concertacion. Of the remaining 8 seats, Communists won 3 seats, Independent Regionalist Party candidates won 3 seats, and independents won 2 seats. Nonetheless, because the Concertacion traditionally had a majority in both houses, their middling performance in 2009 was viewed as a decline from their dominance in previous elections. Alianza's new plurality in the Chamber of Deputies is particularly significant, given that the Concertacion has held the majority in the lower house continuously since military rule ended in 1989. Nonetheless, it remained to be seen how voting patterns will develop in the lower house, as most of the independent or smaller party deputies hailed from the political left and may vote with the Concertacion most of the time.

Given the unusual biases of the binomial system, the total number of ballots cast nationwide for Concertacion vs. Alianza candidates for the Chamber of Deputies is typically seen as a purer representation of the political leanings of Chilean voters than are the results of the elections. A similar comparison is typically not done for the Senate race. Because only half of the Senate seats are contested each year, not all Chileans cast a senatorial ballot, whereas every voter votes for a member of the lower house in each congressional election. In 2009 Concertacion candidates received 44% of all votes cast in Chamber of Deputies races, while Alianza candidates received 43% of all votes. The remaining 13% were divided among independents and smaller political coalitions. This represents a dramatic drop in support for the Concertacion, since in the 2005 congressional election the center-left coalition received 52% of all votes cast vs. 39% for Alianza.

Chile's most unique metric of political strength is the number of districts where one political coalition was able to "double" or win both Senate or both Chamber seats in a single district--an indication that the coalition is very strong in that region. Chile's binomial election system makes this achievement very difficult, often requiring that a single political coalition receive 2/3 of votes in that district in order to win both seats. The Concertacion headed into the 2009 election with six districts where it had doubled, compared to just one doubled district for the Alianza. However, in a significant upset, the Concertacion lost its double representation in all six of these districts, while the Alianza managed to retain its doubled district, the wealthy eastern suburbs of Santiago.

In a historic (though not unexpected) change, the Communist Party was represented in congress for the first time since 1973. Thanks to a controversial cooperation agreement with the Concertacion, Communist candidates won three seats in the Chamber of Deputies. While the Communists are pleased to be represented for the first time in more than 25 years, the expected benefits for the Concertacion did not come to fruition. The Concertacion-Communist slates did not manage to "double" in any of the districts where Communist deputies were elected. While the Communists were not officially part of the Concertacion, it is expected that they will most likely vote with that center-left coalition.

On 11 March 2010 center-right Alianza coalition candidate Sebastian Pinera was inaugurated to serve a four-year term. Thismarked the first time the Concertacion had not held the presidency since the return to democracy in 1990. The election of Sebastian Pinera as the Chilean president turned Chilean politics on its head. The political entities that were created before and during the transition from dictatorship to democracy -- the center-left Concertacion coalition and the center-right Alianza -- had the same roles (Concertacion governing, Alianza opposing), and many of the same faces, for twenty years. Now both political groups struggled to realign their parties, leadership, and alliances given voters' shifting preferences.

The Concertacion's two largest political parties, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, were the targets of most of the finger pointing. Marco Enriquez-Ominami, Jorge Arrate, and Alejandro Navarro were all former Socialists who left the party and ran presidential campaigns which, to a greater or lesser degree, detracted from the Concertacion presidential bid. Some blamed the exclusionary leadership style of Socialist party president Camilo Escalona for encouraging these defections. Political insiders are also raising questions about the future of the Christian Democrat party. Once the largest and most powerful party in Chile, this centrist party had lost much of its influence and many of its congressional seats in recent years.

In reaction to Concertacion candidate Eduardo Frei's poor showing in the first round election on December 13 and his final defeat in the runoff election on January 17, the leaders of all four Concertacion parties resigned (or offered to). The presidents of the two smallest parties, the Party for Democracy (PPD) and Radical Social Democrats (PRSD) were the first to do so, stepping down on December 30 in reaction to Frei's poor performance in the first round election. Socialist party president Camilo Escalona, who remained at the helm despite many calls to resign following the disappointing first round election results, finally resigned on January 23, along with the rest of the Socialist party leadership. Christian Democrat president Juan Carlos Latorre offered his resignation on January 23, though his party's national council rejected his resignation.

Many progressives talked about the need to "re-found" the Chilean center-left coalition. There were many theories about what form a new Chilean left could take, including:

  • The creation of a more progressive political movement uniting Enriquez-Ominami's supporters with the two smaller Concertacion parties, the Party for Democracy (PPD) and Radical Social Democrats (PRSD), and perhaps even the Communists.
  • The creation of a "secular left" to include the Socialists, Party for Democracy, Radical Social Democrats and possibly other elements on the left, but without the religiously-based Christian Democrats.
  • A smaller Christian Democrat party, that may be excluded from new, more progressive groupings and could even find common cause with the conservative Alianza coalition at times.
  • A split in the Socialist party, with those loyal to Camilo Escalona heading up one camp and those who support Ricardo Lagos leading another.
  • "Re-founding" the big umbrella center-left movement, but with a renewal process that will open up leadership positions to the next generation of center-left politicians and codify open primaries to select presidential candidates.
Despite their electoral success, the right faced political fractures as well. Pinera successfully moved Alianza further to the center, which was critical in winning the election, but this created an existential crisis for the staunchly conservative Democratic Union Party (UDI). The UDI is, by some measures, the country's largest political party, controlling a full third of seats in Congress, more than any other party. Some politicians -- such as Jose Antonio Kast, Rodrigo Alvarez, and Felipe Ward -- still clung to the very conservative Catholic vision of UDI founder Jaime Guzman. Nonetheless, the majority of the party had become more centrist, pragmatic, and secular, accepting Pinera's more moderate positions on civil unions for homosexual couples and the "day after" contraceptive pill, which were rejected by UDI traditionalists.



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Page last modified: 04-12-2012 19:02:12 ZULU