Change Comes to Chile

As I’ve had occasion to briefly note in the past, the renaissance of Chile over the past 20 years (1990 is both a conveniently round number and also marks the end of the Pinochet dictatorship) is one of recent history’s great success stories. Right now, the country is embarking on an important new step in its journey forward as for the first time since the end of dictatorship, the center-right coalition has won a presidential election. Optimistically, this sets the stage for Chile to become a genuinely “normal” democracy in which the center-left peacefully hands power to the center-right which governs for a time and then peacefully hands power back to its opponents.

On the other hand, as this excellent Monkey Cage post by Chile experts observes there are also significant risks:

If Piñera, while governing, is able to build a centrist front, further renovation (i.e. democratization) of the center-right is possible. This is not easy, however, given the congressional strength of the UDI, and its weight within the Alianza. At the same time, the Concertación’s survival, out of presidential office, is endangered and all four parties, which moved away from civil society while been in charge of running the state, are in a vulnerable situation. If the centrist and more pragmatic parties in that coalition (i.e. PRSD and/or the PDC) concede to Piñera and support his policy proposals in congress, the pacts, as we knew them, will be in disarray. That would nonetheless open room for a more radical renovation of center-left parties in the future.

The way Chilean politics works is that it’s organized around two main pacts, each of which contains multiple political parties. The right-wing Alianza contains the genuinely democratic National Renewal party to which the new president belongs. But it’s partner, the Independent Democratic Union, is very much a Pinochet-descended party and controls the largest bloc of seats in congress. The left-of-center Concertación, meanwhile, is very much a big tent of former opposition movements and not necessarily viable over the long-haul as an alliance.