Does Chile Have a Political Opposition?

Here’s the story: A government comes to power with a 54% vote in the second round. The rival coalition, the former New Majority (Nueva Mayoría), suffered the worst defeat since the return to democracy, even though it had governed for decades, except for a brief interruption during the first Piñera government. Was the 2017 defeat so crushing that it swept away any opposition?

President Sebastián Piñera won his second term with a solid majority from the voting public, or 49% of eligible voters. However, the left-wing opposition won the majority in Congress. From then on, for almost three years this opposition has centered on conflict, division and confusion. No new leadership, no ideas, not even projects for a country that has changed within 11 months more than some generations could comprehend or process in decades.

But what is difficult to understand is the inability to take advantage of the weakness of a government that remains below 20% approval. This government even bordered on the “margin of error” in December 2019, with an unusual 6% in the most important poll in the country, conducted by the Center for Public Studies. The opposition could not move despite the rival being down for months.

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The Right is Coming in Strong…

Nor has it served them well that the ruling National Renewal (RN) party was divided to such an extent that the president has had to change the cabinet several times to contain intra-coalition struggles. Now, 14 months before the presidential election, it looks like the right could achieve another victory and extend its stay in government palace La Moneda for another four years. A paradox, if we consider that the promise of “Better Times,” the slogan that won Piñera his second presidency, turned into a painful caricature starting on October 18 with the social outburst.

And yet, the right has with the mayor of Santiago’s Las Condes district, Joaquín Lavín, the most competitive presidential pre-candidate. The mayors of the districts of Providencia, Evelyn Matthei, and La Florida, Rodolfo Carter, plus former congressman José Antonio Kast and senators José Miguel Ossandón and Iván Moreira have also joined the race. Six options already, and more could yet emerge.

…while the Opposition is Gone?

The opposition, on the other hand, is hibernating. It has lost two valuable years in building new leaders. The candidates the parties have put forth recently seemed to be simple “reactions” to the moves of governing coalition Chile Vamos. Heraldo Muñoz, the chief of the Party for Democracy (PPD), reiterated for the third or fourth time since 2017 that he was available. Carlos Montes of the Socialist Party (PS) was “proposed” by some members but he declined.

The Broad Front (FA) left-wing coalition, in a meeting of about 20 participants, determined it would carry a candidate to the second round and ruled out an agreement with other political forces. In addition, the FA has suffered scandals, resignations and the total loss of Beatriz Sánchez, who ran for president in the last elections and obtained 20%, not more not less.

The Christian Democrats (DC) also aim to reach the second round – but, of course, without a candidate and no one who would take the stage. Since the Christian Democrats that ran in the previous elections, Claudio Orrego and Carólina Goic, obtained less than 5%, the DC has lacked faces that exceed 2% in any survey.

The Communist Hope

The only left party that at least has a candidate is the Communist Party. Daniel Jadue, the mayor of Santiago’s Recoleta district, is in a tie with Joaquín Lavín. However, the possibility that he could inspire consensus in the rest of the opposition is close to zero. Just as many would never vote for Lavín while he remains a member of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), members of parties such as the Christian Democrats or the Radical Party would never support a communist.

This lack of will, decision and inability to reach agreements in the opposition is so pathetic that it seems to be gripped by stage fright in the face of the difficult upcoming political, social and economic scenario. Otherwise their inability to create a minimum of pragmatism in opposing a very weak rival cannot be understood. Perhaps their unity for the “Apruebo” (Approve) option in the constitutional plebiscite on October 25 can serve as a good test for further cohesion. Because for now, the opposition is irrelevant in Chile.

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