That’s just what Sebastián Piñera needed. Chile Vamos, the government coalition, is about to experience a break-up of the sort that can’t be fixed. It’s a common curse in Chilean politics.
It happened to the former Nueva Mayoría coalition at the end of Michelle Bachelet’s second term, when the Christian Democrats expressed their “disaffection” regarding the center-left project they helped build. Some of its leaders – many of which later abandoned the phalanx, such as Soledad Alvear, Gutenberg Martínez and Mariana Aylwin, daughter of the former president – said Bachelet’s government program has never kept some of its promises. An argument that looked like it came from secondary school students.
The crisis the current ruling coalition, Chile Vamos, is going through today is deep too. And the fundamental reason for that is that it is ideological. It is true, since the social uprising that started on October 18, the differences between the coalition’s three main parties have become evident. However, the controversies clearly obeyed quotas of power and the fight over internal leadership.
The Chile Vamos Frontlines
When the government was formed, the president’s Renovación Nacional (RN) party seemed to be most influential in government palace La Moneda. But only for a short period. Soon Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI), which tacks even more to the right, took the reins in key decisions and became Piñera’s “favorite” player, just like during his first term in 2010.
With the social outbreak, Evópoli party, once wielding great potential to modernize a Chilean right still unable to overcome the “sins” stemming from its support for the Pinochet dictatorship, acquired a weight that was correlated with the size of its voting base rather than its representation in parliament.
With the pandemic, that power increased further, reaching a majority in the political committee around Piñera. This has sparked resentment among the other members, in particular UDI, which has personalized the criticism of Gonzalo Blumel, the young interior minister and Evópoli founding member.
As the party closest to the late dictator, UDI has always demanded greater representation in executive positions. Also, since the uprising, and especially in the last two months, severe ideological fractures appeared when it came to voting for projects to support the sectors most affected by the prolonged quarantine.
A Right-Wing Renewal?
Of course, Evópoli has not lived up to its initial promise either. In parliament, it took positions increasingly in line with the traditional right, in contrast with the pragmatism of its ministers and undersecretaries. In a comparison with developments on the other side of the aisle, Evópoli disappointed just as the Frente Amplio left-wing coalition.
What we have observed in Chile Vamos in just one month is a very hard struggle between the parties, between the parties and the government, and even within them. Inside RN, the differences between its leader, Mario Desbordes, and Senator Andrés Allamand even verge on bullying just a few weeks after the election of the new party leadership.
Desbordes has been accused of crossing the lines, preferring to achieve “agreements with the left rather than with his own sector.” In turn, UDI leader Jacqueline van Rysselberghe accused parliamentarian Paulina Núñez – member of the Desbordes wing – of voting against the government, even though she was “lady of a minister,” referring to Núñez’s spouse, social development and family minister Cristián Monckeberg. Aside from this having been a charge replete with machismo, the project in question was the extension of post-natal maternity leave for women who met the deadline for returning to work in the midst of the pandemic and quarantine.
But if one project has cut the ruling party in half, it is the possibility of citizens withdrawing 10% from their pension savings funds. The hardest groups are completely opposed, while for the most liberal ones, who consider the depth of the crisis, it is one option left to support the middle class, perhaps the least protected sector during the double crisis that’s been afflicting the country for almost 10 months.
A Rift Long in the Making
But let us remember that, months ago, when faced with the plebiscite on a new Constitution – still scheduled for October 25 but at risk due to the pandemic – the right was already fragmented. The frontline ran between those who want to keep the Constitution written during the dictatorship – although it has been strongly modified – and those who promote a new one, updated to serve a new era. Coincidentally, these groups are the same antagonists right now.
I think that, even if a pact can be agreed – La Moneda has called a kind of conclave to iron out the rough edges – this will only provide some make-up. In the background, we will have a split coalition, disaffected to the government and whose members will have to face two full years of elections. Many will now prefer to distance themselves from a president whose approval is falling again, even though he replaced his trusted but controversial Health Minister Jaime Mañalich with the more authoritative Enrique Paris.
Undoubtedly, the effect of falling to 6% in the polls during the social uprising has installed a perception that is difficult to reverse. Even worse for the government, the uprising could return – but in a more complex setting.
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.