[Documents menu] Documents menu
From papadop@peak.org Tue Jan 11 07:14:17 2000
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 22:11:47 -0600 (CST)
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: CHILE- Presidential Elections - Hard RIGHT Comes back in Force.
Organization: ?
Article: 86376
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: e18b65ea53bf7f9f6148e577df33802d

The hard right come back in force

Le Monde Libertaire
5 January 2000

In order to understand why the ideology of Pinochet has polluted politics in Chile since the return to democracy ten years ago we have to go on a trip down the side streets of the past.

In 1980, at the height of his power, Pinochet replaced the 1925 Constitution with his own. There was no public debate and no opportunity for ammendments or modifications. This Constitution included a series of Articles which were to become no more than shakles around the feet of democracy. They were known as the called the anchor laws.

Firstly, the new Constitution affirmed that Pinochet would remain President until 1988. In that year there would be a referendum so that the people could decide if they wanted the military regime to continue. A 'yes' response would ensure that there would be no elections until 1997. A 'no' would bring about elections in 1989. It is clear that at the time Pinochet seriously believed that he had the support of the majority of the Chilean people and that his opponents were no more than a bunch of subversives the secret police could happily annihilate.

Second anchor-law: so as not to run the risk of a future democratic Parliament reforming the Constitution it was deemed necessary to keep control of the Senate where the fate of any proposed legislation was to be decided. To this effect Pinochet set up ten `institutional Senators' appointed every eight years by the President of the Republic that is to say, in 1980, himself, the armed forces, the university rectors (appointed by him), the President of the Revenue Court (appointed by him) and by the judges of the Supreme Court (appointed by, you've guessed, him). In addition he appointed `life Senators' which is to say anyone who had been President of Chile for at least six years - he was the only person to fit the bill.

Thus the Senate was made up of 28 elected members (eleven of whom were from the right of the political spectrum), ten who were appointed and one life member. Any important reform required a 2/3 majority. In this way control of the Senate was assured.

Another law saw that 10% of the total revenue from Chilean copper (one of the main sources of US dollars) was to be handed over to the military which was at liberty to spend tham as it wished with no state control.

But in 1988 there was a surprise. The regime had miscalculated the depth of discontent among the Chilean people. He lost the referendum. Then he lost the elections in 1989. When the Concertacion coalition won the elections it had the power to call a new Constituent Assembly. It is clear that the right, shocked by their defeat, would have been unable to react. At the time a military coup was out of the question. A million were on the streets of Santiago, the eyes of the world were on Chile and even the President of the US made it known to Pinochet that there should be no question of any hasty action. But the politicians, ever perturbed by popular demonstrations, were frightened of losing control of the situation and prefered to negotiate a secret agreement with the military regime the outcome of which was that the Concertacion would agree to respect the Constitution of 1980. Chile would go into a stage of transition towards parliamentary democracy overseen by the military. This transition period continues today.


Thus, 12th December last, Chileans voted in the first round of the election of their third President since the end of the dictatorship. Six candidates representing four small parties and two coalitions fought over the vote of 8 million electors.

The two large coalitions are the right wing Alliance for Chile and, in the centre, the Concertacion of Parties for Democracy who have been in power since the end of the dictatorship in 1990.

Lagos, the Concertacion candidate, won the first round by the narrowest of margins with 47.96% ahead of Lavin with 47.52%. Clearly a right wing President is on the cards for the year 2000.

How is this possible scarcely ten years after the end of the military regime? The first thing to note if that those registered electors voted massively for the two big coalitions sweeping the other candidates from the competition. Secondly, the right has gone well beyond its normal 35% of the vote and the Concertacion has missed its expected share by some 12%. Such results in the first round point towards a victory for the right.


Pinochet's involuntary absence in London has allowed Lavin to put himself forward as a young managerial type without any political baggage. He has carefully avoided any rhetoric which could associate him with the old regime and has distanced himself from personalities associated with it. He has also succeeded in attracting support from the Christian Democrats whose extremists have always refused to `vote for a socialist' even if that meant going against agreed party policy. It is equally clear that a number who have been disenchanted with the ruling party have allied themselves with this grouping.

Another source of support comes from the Mapuche Indians. The region of Arauco voted solidly for the right. One explanation of this is that the Mapuche Indians, who were never involved in the anti-Pinochet political parties, didn't suffer the fierce repression that those parties did suffer. For this group the two coalitions are simply two options. Also the ruling party, having violently dealt with the demands of the Indians over the last few months, could hardly expect much support from this quarter. Not having much faith in the smaller parties the Mapuche voted for Lavin in large numbers (56% in this region as against 40% for Lagos and 1.2% for the Communists who had actually supported them).

Another surprise source of support is women. 53% of women voted for Lavin. He has always appeared in public with his wife and seven children giving the image of the ideal young Chilean family - good for the cameras and his opinion poll ratings. Analysts suggest that women, more sensitive than men to social problems related to delinquency and unemployment, have accepted Lavin's promises of safer streets and more jobs.

Finally spoilt ballots only amount to some 3% suggesting that the `don't knows' have decided to back the right.


The Concertacion was formed in 1989 by the union of all the anti-dictatorship groups and brought together 17 political parties from the Christian Democrats to the Communists picking up various Socialist groupings in the middle. Bit by bit the `big' parties swallowed up the `little' ones and others (Communists, Greens, Humanists) went their own way unhappy at having to live with right wing groupings. The candidature for the elections was easily won by Ricardo Lagos (70%) when, in the primaries, he ran against the Christian Democrat, Andres Zaldivar. But he drew the wrath of the right of the Christian Democrats who refused to `vote for a Socialist'. The latter have massively supported the right - their natural home. The flight of votes to Lavin may well herald the death of the Concertacion.

In general the policies of the ruling coalition over ten years of government have landed the country with a heavy bill to pay given its unquestioning acceptance of uncontrolled neoliberalism.

Despite a handful of positive social reforms and an undeniable reduction of mass poverty it was the ruling coalition which sold off the water and electricity industries, put down the Mapuche who were struggling against the multinationals and deforestration, provoked strikes in various sectors, proved itself incapable of democratising the country's political institutions and led calls to bring Pinochet back to Chile. To this should be added the rise of unemployment these last 18 months since the Asian crisis, a policy of co-operation with the right not to mention a proposed reform of labour legislation which was finally thrown out by the Senate partly because it didn't have the full support of the Christian Democrats.

High abstention during previous elections has suggested a growing disillusionment among the electorate although such voters were still not prepared to vote for the right. The ruling coalition in its somewhat arrogant isolation didn't see what was coming. Power blinds those who hold it.


The tight vote in the first round is a good sign for the right. For those who oppose Pinochet these elections are a disaster. Listening to members of the government calling on electors to vote with a sense of responsibility is hard to swallow when the problem is of their own making. All that is needed is a few more votes for the most extreme right wing grouping in Latin America, fundamentally inspired by Pinochet, to take power in Chile and with the support of a majority of its people.

Right now all eyes are fixed on the second round due to take place on January 16th. It would really be too much to see Pinochet extradited to Madrid to stand trial whilst his successors win the Chilean elections. This is not political fiction but, unfortunately, a real possibility.

[World History Archives]     [Gateway to World History]     [Images from World History]     [Hartford Web Publishing]