Photo credit: Maria Jose Bustamante

Photo credit: Maria Jose Bustamante

Chile, often claimed as exemplary democracy and one of the least corrupt countries in Latin America, has recently been shook by some of the mayor corruption scandals known to the post-dictatorship period. Certainly, even though there are few that doubt the existence of corruption, the exposure of scandals that involved the highest levels of the society have seriously damaged the future prospects of the current system in place. Moreover, even if the two major coalitions of political spectrum have been involved and exposed, it seems that the leverage of political left is the one to be more affected.

Concentracion, or Nueva Mayoria as it has recently been renamed as to rejuvenate its image, is a coalition that grew from a disparate collection of various parties belonging to political left and center, initially formed to defeat Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite on his continued rule. The coalition successfully rode the wave managing to overcome divisions to forge the longest lasting coalition in Chilean history which was mainly based on the premise of defense to democracy. Since the end of the dictatorship, the coalition had five out of six presidents elected and has ruled the country for 21 out of 25 years. Nevertheless, while it successfully managed the transitional period to democracy as the time passes its successes seem to rather wear out and its inability of offer something distinctively new has brought it closer to its mayor political rivals (the coalition of parties belonging to center-right).

Furthermore, recent scandals seem to have only reduced the differences between the so-called left and right and have narrowed down political options in the eyes of the electorate. There are two points on which the two major coalitions have some chance to differ and both help to clarify the landscape currently evolving. First involves the political/economic program that each side has to offer and the second one has to do with perception of corruption affecting both sides. Considering the first one, one can witness little differences between the two. With unconditional acceptance of neoliberal economic program implemented in the country during the Pinochet era, the left-center has found itself unable to attack the roots of the issues the populace has protested about (i.e. education) and has only offered incomplete solutions. Likewise, recent scandals, first one involving the son of the incumbent left-center president in the traffic of influences in speculative real estate transaction, and second one considering tax fraud, bribery, money laundering, involved and supported by Holding Company Penta and UDI (one of the mayor opposition parties on the right) have both played to tie the result between the two and have narrowed down their differences.

Even though it can’t be said whether the crimes are same or not, it is certain that the legitimacy of the political system is brought into question as its parties and institutions seem to be losing control. This may eventually lead to depoliticization of Chilean society that could open the doors to populist tactics to which Chile is generally immune. Although not in its traditional form, the populist tactics have already contributed to the victory of center-right candidate in 2010 elections, a victory that even though had to wait for 20 years was nevertheless achieved. The echoes of the electorate campaign back in 2010 were very much similar to those at the end of Pinochet regime. The discourse forms a politico-ideological stance of UDI (Independent Democratic Union) and it is based on the rejection to “politics and politicians” while it presents itself as the only option doing the “public service” and is based on the strong technocratic appeal that right carries. This stance worked well in 2010 and it may once again pose the most serious challenge to continued rule of center-left that is currently facing great difficulties to bring the promised reforms from 2014 elections.

Current administration was elected among other factors on the wave of student movement – one of the main socio-political configurations that evolved in the recent history. Besides students, the large entrepreneurs also supported current president. Out of the two groups, it seems that the one to be left disappointed are the students whose demands of free education and end to profit in this sector are unlikely to be met as the process of tax reform that is supposed to finance this change seems to be rather stuck.

What we seem to be observing in Chile is the consistent widening of the gap that exists between politics and society, as the second one seems to appear as a simple observer and not a detrimental factor in the process. Once again we can note how the left is the likely one to end up on the losing side as a result of lack of political representation and political accountability, both of which are crucial to well functioning democracies. And even though during the initial phases of the transition the left did well as not to wake up the sleeping lion (in Pinochet words) from the military barracks, it currently seems unable to reinvent itself in the face of changing circumstances. In this scenario, that may crack the doors to some form of partidocracia in which both left and right move more to the center and start to appear indistinguishable it is likely that we could witness the break up of the dissident voices from the left that in the end could pave the way to return to the power of the right, a known scenario from 2010 elections.