Chile’s opposition must surely be unique in the world. It not only couldn’t put up a fight against a historically unpopular government but is also self-destructive. This behavior imperils the process of drafting the new constitution, with unpredictable consequences.
The opposition has faced a government that has had the least citizen support of any since the return to democracy, and it could not capitalize on anything. In fact, at times it has seemed that President Sebastián Piñera could govern without any counterweight, despite his many problems.
To the dramatic lack of projects, new leadership, narratives, and ideas in the opposition, we now add a worrying self-destructive instinct. Meanwhile, Chile will enter a historic moment in just over a month: the 155 men and women who will form part of the Constituent Convention and draft the new Constitution will be elected. The document they write will replace the Magna Carta from 1980, which was signed by dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Where Will it Lead?
But the opposition could not even agree on a single list for the Constituent Convention campaign and the election of mayors and governors. The right, however, even partnered with the Republicans, founded and led by unapologetic dictatorship enthusiasts. This leads to a situation in which those who opposed even modifying the current Constitution – mostly from the right – could end up imposing their terms in the new one and even prevent the changes a majority voted for in the October plebiscite.
It is difficult to understand the opposition’s lack of pragmatism. Infighting prevented the establishment of common minimum demands to confront the governing coalition. The right, on the other hand, has overcome its division. Prior to the plebiscite, reformers and hardliners confronted each other, and the latter suffered a resounding defeat as Rechazo gained only 22%. Now, however, they are united in a mission to keep things as they are.
If they succeed, the opposition will have to take responsibility. What could happen in that situation? In the plebiscite and in the streets, 78% of the citizenry demanded changes. Surely, people could return to the streets and delegitimize the drafting process in the ratification plebiscite.
An Oppositional Disaster
The Party for Democracy (PPD) raised the idea of holding a pre-primary for the presidential election next November among the Socialist Party (PS), the Radical Party (PR), and the Progressive Party (PRO). The winner would face the Christian Democrats’ (DC) candidate, Ximena Rincón. Although the idea wasn’t received well, the Christian Democrats could take advantage if it materializes and send Rincón to the first round, just as they did with Carolina Goic in 2017, further weakening the center and left.
The left-wing Broad Front coalition seems to have lost its way completely. Moreover, once it promised to change bad policies – especially those of the former Nueva Mayoría coalition – but just turned into a younger caricature of what it criticized.
Democratic Revolution (RD), the coalition’s largest party, suffered the resignation of two lawmakers. And Marcela Sandoval was elected “general secretary” to lead the party, even though Paz Gajardo had been elected previously to do just that. And one representative resigned from the party to run for the Constitutional Convention.
In the Communist Party (PC), presidential hopeful Daniel Jadue, who’s the mayor of Recoleta, has been stuck in the polls after corruption allegations linked to street lighting emerged. And PPD chief Heraldo Muñoz, an astute foreign minister during the second Bachelet administration, is failing to make headway in the polls and is unlikely to reach a competitive position for the July primary.
Maybe the only novelty is the surprise entry of Paula Narváez. In less than two months, the former spokesperson for former president Bachelet has established herself as a fresh alternative. She has re-enchanted and enthused Socialist Party members, especially women. Just a few months ago, the party mulled running José Miguel Insulza and other representatives of its old, conservative guard.
We will see in the coming weeks if Narváez keeps climbing in the polls. She’s already in the top 6.
Beyond the fact that the opposition has not been up to the task, it also failed to build a proposal or a narrative for citizens that finally have had it in 2019 after waiting for decades for audacious changes.
Incapable of generating new leadership and lacking ideas added to the lack of political intelligence. The failure has prevented the opposition to confront the process for the new Constitution, which is the most transcendent of all ideological battles. It may have wasted a unique historical opportunity.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.