Opposition in Chile: Anything but United


Licenciado en Historia y Periodista

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

The breakdown of the administrative agreement between the Frente Amplio left-wing coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Radical Party, which had as a backdrop the electoral campaign of Democratic Revolution party, led the opposition to its lowest point since President Piñera’s inauguration. The shake-up could mean a definitive break in the opposition which could benefit the right, or it could end in a restructured, more solid left block to face the coming elections.

The vote on the Migration Law was the breaking point of a one-year relationship based not on trust or ideology, but pragmatism and the desire to put checks and balances on Piñera’s agenda. But as the government’s proposal for the law was approved with the votes of the Radical Party (PR) and the Christian Democrats (DC), Frente Amplio (FA), or Broad Front,  abandoned all mutual agreements.

Brokered early 2018, before Piñera assumed the presidency, these agreements were purely administrative.They were meant to organize the distribution of parliamentary chairs of the legislative commissions and the presidency of the lower house, which, supposedly, would be in the hands of Gabriel Silber (DC) as of March this year.

Things got rough when the Frente Amplio’s parliamentary group refused to vote for Silber as president of the chamber.

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Too many votes for the president

The FA’s main argument for pulling out of the agreements was that both the PR and the DC had voted with the Piñera administration too many times. This argument looks hollow, though, because the agreement had never such strings attached; it was, again, just for administrative purposes.

None of the parliamentarians assumed responsibility for the measure, but most sources according to news outlet El Mostrador agree that it came mainly from Revolución Democratica (Democratic Revolution, RD) representatives, which is the biggest section in the FA. Prominent advocates of breaking the agreement were Maite Orsini, Catalina Pérez (president-elect of the party), Giorgio Jackson (a party founder and leader of the 2011 student protests) and Miguel Crispi (first national coordinator).

The FA’s national board wasn’t pleased with the decision. Their problem was not the break-up it self, but that the parliamentary group broke “relations with the opposition without consulting their [the FA’s]parties.” After initial annoyance, the board still ratified the decision.

Meanwhile, the rest of the opposition felt alienated. Parties fear the break-up could weaken an alliance between the FA and parties of the former center-left coalition Nueva Mayoría (New Majority, NM) in the coming 2020 municipal elections.

Chile Today

Future agreements on the ballot

Last week, the RD’s supreme tribunal released the results of their national electionsCatalina Pérez, a key proponent of abandoning the agreement with the DC and the PR, was elected president of the party.

She defeated Javiera Parada, cultural attaché in Chile’s embassy in the US during the last Bachelet administration, who has a more favorable position toward agreements with other opposition parties.

The relationship between RD and the FA with the former NM was a major point of disagreement during the campaign. Possible options for the next elections included primaries with the rest of the opposition, competing alone as FA, or create some pacts by disputing key right-wing municipalities and strengthen the left-wing coalition as a conglomerate. Parada was closer to the first option and Pérez to the latter.

In that sense, El Mostrador reported citing anonymous sources, the breakdown of relations with the centrist parties was seen by a group of RD deputies as a way to mark positions in the midst of a tense race for the leadership of the FA’s anchor party and a possible red line for future agreements with the rest of the opposition.

Chile Today

Election on sight

During the 2017 election campaign, substantial rifts in Chile’s left emerged. As an example serves the FA’s refusal to support NM candidate Alejandro Guillier in the run-off against Sebastián Piñera.

Now, with the breaking of the parliamentarian agreements that used to bind the FA with the DC and PR, at least on an administrative level, the opposition could split into three sections: 1) a centrist bloc led by the DC,  2) the Convergencia Progresista (Progressive Convergence, CP) bloc of former NM parties like the PR, the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy, and 3) a lone-wolf FA.

As in this scenario not only parties but also votes would split, the resulting weakness of the left-wing could translate into strengthening political power for right-wing Chile Vamos (Let’s Go Chile) coalition, adding to greater presence of their administrative positions in Congress by controlling the chairs of the legislative commissions. Also, it can help right-wing candidates in municipal and governor elections.

But the break could also stimulate the CP to seek rapprochement with the FA, and force more defined differences with their former DC allies. History has shown that the Christian Democrats, although they share the right’s opposition to abortion and agree on some economic policies, would prefer to go it alone rather than pact with the right. An ideologically more cohesive left would emerge, without giving more power to the right.

Calls for left unity have already come from the new party in the FA, Comunes (Commons). Comunes said in a statement that “the Broad Front must propose to form a useful agreement to social majorities that allows to generate an effective opposition to the government and to advance a progressive agenda.” This approach could open the door to agreements between the left-wing coalition and the rest of the opposition.

In this regard, the Communist Party has become a nexus between the FA and the NM that can help bridge the gap. If successful, the cohesion could result in a stronger left/center-left coalition like the one that governs Portugal. It could change the political landscape for the municipal, gubernatorial and presidential elections. But only time will tell.

*Imagen de cabecera propiedad de Sebastián Cisternas/ATON Chile.

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