In over a year, the Gabriel Boric administration has never missed an opportunity to turn victory into defeat. One step forward is followed by two steps back. Worryingly, the self-inflicted wounds help strengthen the revisionist right.
Chile’s government is experiencing a strange phenomenon, perhaps mainly due to these young rulers’ lack of experience and incompetence.
Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, every time the Gabriel Boric administration gains control of the agenda, something internal – a scandal, an unforced error – happens and ruins everything. The origin? Presidential pardons in 2022 for some of those who were detained for rioting during the social uprising of 2019.
Just before the pardons, Boric’s approval rose seven points in the polls because he presented a popular pension reform. The pardons ruined that surge and were even questioned by the ruling party.
The most recent episode occurred after Boric’s second address to the nation, in which he empathized with citizen demands, leading to a 10-percentage point increase in the polls.
But immediately after, it came to light that ruling coalition associated foundations received massive public resources, without properly accounting for their use. Nepotism and corruption dominated the agenda.
Just days later, Patricio Fernández, government-appointed coordinator for the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the September 11 coup, left his post because of heavy criticism from civil society organizations. Fernández suggested the coup was somehow provoked rather than committed.
At this point, it seems that self-destructive instinct is widespread among the government and its allies.
Although the government still enjoys approval of around 30 percent, far more than the two previous administrations, a good moment is followed immediately by a catastrophic crisis. The dramatic thing is that the blows do not come from the opposition, but from within the coalition. A kind of self-attack. If the government ignores analyzing all possible crisis scenarios to anticipate an event, the consequences could be fatal.
In the current crisis revolving around foundation money, the government is unable to take the initiative. What’s more, the ruling coalition is made up of young people who condemned the previous cross-ideological neoliberal consensus and elites. Now, they face credibility problems too.
While the scandal involves serious misdeeds that warrant investigation, the government lost the crucial first days, when it should have highlighted that these practices are common and have been followed for years by other parties.
A commission to improve these procedures was created only after the damage was done.
Benefits for the Right
And as if this crisis wasn’t enough, Fernández’s resignation, surely welcomed by the Communist Party, a ruling coalition member, which targeted him since his appointment, unnecessarily inflicted a wound that tarnishes the crucial September event.
Schizophrenia was so intense that the right had to defend Fernández, taking advantage to pursue revisionism and defend the coup and Pinochet, which had been taboo since the 1990s.
I think communist lawmakers made a mistake and polarized by dividing participants in the event into those who defend human rights and those who supposedly don’t.
If the ruling coalition does not learn from its mistakes, it will fall into the most dangerous habit: self-destruction. That’s a grave concern since the most popular potential presidential contenders are Evelyn Matthei and José Antonio Kast. The former is leveraging the reputation her late father gained as Pinochet’s defense minister and the latter is an open defender of the dictatorship, with close ties to the Pinochets and their henchmen.
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.