Chile presidential election: Frente Amplio success

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The first round of Chile’s presidential elections held on 19 November 2017 produced a surprising political result. Despite a low turnout of 46.7%, the new grassroots coalition Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front), led by Beatriz Sanchez, obtained 20.3% of the vote, winning 21 of the 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. FA was not predicted to get more than 15%. Former right-wing president Sebastian Piñera led the field, with 36.6% rather than an expected 44%, while social democratic standard bearer Alejandro Guillier was runner-up, creeping past Sanchez with 22.7%. The run-off between Piñera and Guillier is taking place on 17 December. The chances are that Piñera will again don the presidential sash, although this will depend on whether FA supporters decide to vote for Guillier in the second round or abstain.

FA’s political origins lie in the past decade of student protests which began in 2006, when secondary school students took to the streets in their school uniforms to demonstrate against poor state-provided education coupled with expensive private education and high bus fares – the so-called Penguin protests. In 2011, protests erupted again, this time involving higher education students as well: schools and universities were occupied, and there was a broader dimension as the whole education system came under attack with demands to nationalise all private provision (see FRFI 223 – ‘Chile: Student revolt challenges the Pinochet order’). Other movements joined in as anger spilled over at the appalling privatised pension system, poor state healthcare provision, the constant attacks on the indigenous Mapuche people, and a continuous assault on the environment sanctioned by successive governments in favour of mining multinationals. From this came a call for a constituent assembly to write a replacement for the dictator Pinochet’s 1980 constitution: this was a central element of FA’s platform.

FA’s social base among young people, many of them university graduates, is similar to that which in Britain provided a groundswell of support to Jeremy Corbyn and which put him at the head of the Labour Party. The crucial difference, however, is that FA supporters reject the Socialist Party and its allies as one side of a ‘duopoly’, the other half of which are the open conservatives. Alternating in government, this duopoly holds political power on behalf of the mining multinationals and the handful of very wealthy Chilean families which run much of the economy. The lack of progress on any of the demands that have been fought for over the past ten years has led to this new form of political organisation.

Disillusionment with the political system is widespread, especially among young people. There have been numerous corruption scandals involving, among others, the military police, politicians, and the son and daughter-in-law of the outgoing Socialist Party President Michelle Bachelet. Pressures on the economy, heavily dependent on earnings from copper exports, are growing as China scales back its purchases of the metal; there have been strikes in a number of mines against lay-offs.

The FA will debate whether to support Guillier; spokesperson Javiera Parada says ‘We are a new political option that doesn’t respond to the promiscuous relationship between business and politics. We want to break the neoliberal logic that has reigned in Chile for the last 50 years, imposed by [General Pinochet’s] dictatorship but that has been broadly maintained.’ The question is whether a desire to defeat Piñera is now seen as the primary aim. This would involve an electoral compromise with Guillier and the duopoly arrangement the FA is dedicated to opposing. The other choice is to stand firm on the central demand for a constituent assembly, and abstain on 17 December.

Sheila Rubio

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 261 December 2017/January 2018