The left-wing Frente Amplio or Broad Front coalition was born on January 21, 2017. Refreshing news at the time, because the coalition planned to break Chile’s decaying politics, hoping for change of ideas and forms. But the dream is failing.
At the time Broad Front emerged, citizens had been observing how corruption and illegal financing hit almost all parties. Financial services group Penta and fertilizer and lithium producer SQM are only two companies that financed election campaigns with dark money. Parliamentarians and senators had to face courts.
But Broad Front also vowed to renew a center-left that was exhausted after almost 30 years in power, lacking projects and dominated by pragmatism. Only three months after its founding, the coalition, comprising diverse parties and movements and led by Democratic Revolution, Social Convergence, Autonomous Left, among others, held a primary to elect presidential and parliamentary candidates. It even achieved submitting 33,000 signatures to the Electoral Service, allowing the primaries to be supervised and legitimated by the watchdog.
A Promising Rise
This positive signal generated applause and praise for the participatory way of organizing the elections – something most traditional parties still resist. Broad Front also won accolades for the high number of members that joined. Already in the presidential election in November 2017, Broad Front, led by Beatriz Sánchez, achieved 20% in the first round, and its bench in Congress gained 20 parliamentarians. They became a phenomenon in Chilean politics.
Its leaders were young and energetic. They had led the student movement and leveled demands and proposals that shook a political class that for decades had avoided conflict “and care for democracy.” Broad Front created hopes for a change of styles and energy, similar to the Spanish experience led by Pablo Iglesias and company.
In the wake of Broad Front’s success, it’s equivalent on the right, Evópoli, was founded. But three years later, both Broad Front and Evópoli are only sad caricatures of themselves.
Mistake after Mistake
Problems arose quickly. Agreements were difficult to find, the leaders talked more than necessary and vented their private life without any second thoughts. In addition, the critical position they took in relation to the other opposition parties – Sebastián Piñera had won the second round with 54% – created an ironic image of an arrogant group. It appeared like an adolescent boy that stops idealizing his parents and discovers that they are full of errors and defects. Only four or five young leaders took charge of the coalition, not leaving any space for others. Democratic Revolution then dominated the Broad Front’s image, and parties and small movements that gave the coalition impetus in 2017 defected.
In some areas, the coalition turned extreme, exposing an unwillingness to negotiate. Black or white, regardless of the political cost. Members seemed to think ‘if the right wins with that project, I won’t bother with it.’
And the first test came with the social outbreak of October last year. Even though a new Constitution was a pillar of the coalition’s ideological doctrine, it did not support the parliamentary pact, which in the morning of November 15 prevented the government from decreeing a State of Siege. That day, democracy was at serious risk, but only representative Gabriel Boric – in a personal capacity, according to him – participated in the negotiations that paved the way for the plebiscite to decide if the Constitution implemented during the Pinochet dictatorship will be replaced. But Broad Front criticized Boric harshly, starting with Social Convergence, the party he helped found. Did Broad Front parliamentarians expect the crisis to be resolved outside the institutional framework? Strange, given they are members of Congress.
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A second test occurred at the start of the legislative year. Chile had been dragging the social crisis from October last year, then the pandemic. The government was cornered and support for the president was less than 20%. The opposition could have seized the moment and could have gone on the offensive. It could have shown its governance cards for the future.
Yet, and even though the opposition has a majority in both chambers, it lost the presidency of the House of Representatives, because most Broad Front parliamentarians abstained from voting for the candidate because he was a Christian Democrat, even though he confronted the ruling party. The result? The center-left lost, for the first time since the return to democracy in 1990, the chief-of-parliamentarians position to the right.
Where to Go From Here
Now we’ve arrived at a situation where Broad Front would only reluctantly – not certainly – participate in a primary process with the rest of the opposition to elect candidates for mayors, councilors and regional governors, a new position up for votes in elections in April 2021. Unusually, all other parties agreed after tough negotiations that they would go together. In addition, Broad Front decided to run its own presidential candidate in the presidential elections in November next year. This decision creates more possibilities for the likely ruling party candidate, center-right Joaquín Lavín, to win and continue a government that has seen some of the lowest public support in decades.
As far as is known, the decision was made by a small group, led by some parliamentarians, but not all of them were even present. Previously, Broad Front had criticized other parties for this practice. Voices have already emerged within the coalition asking to review the decision, although the registration period for the primary lists is approaching. We will see if this time the coalition will become more aware of the impact the measure could have on the political future of the country or if it runs with the option. In that case, Broad Front will have to learn that changing political practices also requires the ability to negotiate and seek agreements. And of course, the coalition should be more humble.
‘Adolescence’ crises always have costs, but in this case not only for the Broad Front, but for the entire country.
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.