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Chile - Politics

03 Nov 197011 Sep 1973Salvador Allende GossensPS-UP
11 Sep 197311 Mar 1990Augusto José Ramón Pinochet UgarteMilitary
11 Mar 199011 Mar 1994Patricio Aylwin AzócarPDC
11 Mar 199411 Mar 2000Eduardo Frei Ruiz-TaglePDC
11 Mar 200011 Mar 2006Ricardo Froilán Lagos EscobarPPD
11 Mar 200611 Mar 2010Verónica Michelle Bachelet JeriaPS
11 Mar 201011 Mar 2014 Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera EcheniqueRN/Ind

Since winning independence in 1818, Chile has a history of civilian rule surpassed by that of few countries in the world. In the nineteenth century, Chile became the first country in Latin America to install a durable constitutional system of government, which encouraged the development of an array of political parties. Military intervention in politics has been rare in Chile, occurring only at times of extraordinary social crisis, as in 1891, 1924, 1925, 1932, and 1973. These interventions often brought about massive transformations; all the fundamental changes in the Chilean political system and its constitutions have occurred with the intervention of the armed forces, acting in concert with civilian politicians.

From 1932 to 1973, Chile built on its republican tradition by sustaining one of the most stable, reformist, and representative democracies in the world. Although elitist and conservative in some respects, the political system provided for the peaceful transfer of power and the gradual incorporation of new contenders. Undergirding that system were Chile's strong political parties, which were often attracted to foreign ideologies and formulas. Having thoroughly permeated society, these parties were able to withstand crushing blows from the Pinochet regime of 1973-90.

A military coup overthrew Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. As the armed forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende reportedly committed suicide. A military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet, took over control of the country. The regime was marked by serious human rights violations and the stifling of civil liberties and political expression. Through a new authoritarian constitution, approved by a plebiscite on September 11, 1980, General Pinochet became President of the Republic for an 8-year term. In its later years, the regime gradually permitted greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, to include trade union activity. In contrast to its authoritarian political rule, the military government pursued decidedly laissez-faire economic policies. During its 16 years in power, Chile moved away from economic statism toward a largely free market economy that fostered an increase in domestic and foreign private investment.

In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, Chileans voted for elections to choose a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress, denying General Pinochet a second 8-year term as president. On December 14, 1989, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate of a coalition of 17 political parties called the Concertacion, was elected president. Pinochet remained as commander-in-chief of the Army until 1998, when he became senator for life. Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994 and was succeeded by another Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of Frei Montalva), leading the same coalition, for a 6-year term. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy led the Concertacion to a narrower victory in the 2000 presidential elections. His term ended on March 11, 2006, when President Michelle Bachelet Jeria, of the Socialist Party, took office for a 4-year term.

Chile's successful economic model did not change much under Bachelet. Achieving higher rates of economic growth remained a priority for Chile, but the Bachelet government sought to combine this with social justice, poverty alleviation and a reduction of big inequalities in income between the rich and the poor. The government also pursued a programme to reform the health, social security and education systems as well as further constitutional reform. The Bachelet government was initially handicapped however, by its lack of a commanding majority in Congress. This changed in December 2005, when, for the first time, the center-left coalition obtained a majority in the parliamentary elections.

The Pinochet-era electoral system made it very difficult for any one party to gain a significant majority in Congress. The framework that Pinochet and his allies created could not easily be dismantled. Chile's electorate of roughly eight million has changed little in the last twenty years and is largely composed of people who registered to participate in the 1988 plebiscite. Participation in presidential elections has steadily decreased. Few young people register to vote because inscription is voluntary, while voting is mandatory. Congress approved legislation to make inscription automatic and voting voluntary, but the law was not implemented for the 2009 election. There are no absentee or overseas voting mechanisms, so individuals who cannot vote because they are geographically too distant have to abstain.

The incidence of terrorist activity and civil disturbance is low in Chile, and the violence that has occurred has had little impact on the Chilean economy. Crime rates are moderate throughout the country, and the vast majority of crimes are nonviolent. During the last 10 years there have been relatively few incidents of politically motivated attacks on investment projects or installations. In 2011, there were occasional incidents of vandalism of storefronts and public transport during student protests over education reform, some of which included violent incidents. Incidents of anti-American sentiment and civil disorder are rare, and there have been no attacks by international terrorist organizations. However, since 2007 Chile has experienced a number of small-scale bombings targeting mostly banks, but also a police station, a political memorial and the UK Embassy, and most recently, the offices of a major newspaper and magazine publisher and a prominent Catholic cathedral. Anarchist groups have claimed credit for some of the bombs. There have also been violent incidents in farms and forestry plantations in southern Chile. These incidents in southern Chile are related to the land claims of indigenous people (the Mapuche Native American group) in the VIII and IX Regions.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:53:09 ZULU