What the far-right victory means for Chilean politics

The far-right Republican party will dominate the constitutional drafting process. It won an overwhelming majority in the elections on May 7. A process that started with highly progressive ideals manifested far-right reaction.

The pendulum swung heavily. In 2020, a majority of voters – with non-voters comprising a vast portion of the electorate – chose to replace the current Constitution.

In the drafting process, established politicians and all parties were marginalized by the electorate, as the Constitutional Convention comprised 60 percent independent members. In December 2021, decidedly leftist Gabriel Boric was elected president on a record margin.

Then in September 2022, the constitutional draft was rejected by 62 percent, this time voting was mandatory. On May 7, the far-right Republicans swept the elections for advisers to the Constitutional Council that is writing a new draft. The party won 23 of 51 seats, giving it veto power over an expert committee. The electorate empowered the heirs of Pinochet to write an even more conservative and restrictive Constitution than the current one, which was imposed in 1980 and reformed during the Ricardo Lagos administration.

Never before had any Chilean right-wing party achieved such a strong showing in any election.

Also read:

Next steps on Chile’s path to a possible new constitution

The Constellation

Of course, the real support for the Republicans remains unclear. The party centered its electoral campaign 100% on crime, and fear is always a strong value proposition in political marketing. Related to the crime focus was immigration, specifically Venezuelan immigration. In 2019, another right-wing politician, then president Sebastián Piñera, encouraged Venezuelan immigration.

On May 7, the bipolarity we’ve lived with in recent years was expressed in all its magnitude. Voters wanted the party that has always opposed a new Constitution to write a new Constitution and they made it the country’s most important party by far.

Chile Vamos, the coalition of traditional right-wing parties, will send 11 advisers to the council, cementing right-wing dominance. The left coalition, which ran two lists, will send 16 representatives. One representative will be indigenous, compared to 17 in the previous drafting body.

The political center was practically wiped out. Right populist PDG was the biggest loser, however. Its leader, Franco Parisi, placed third in the 2021 presidential election, but after Sunday’s defeat he immediately returned to the US. Without a doubt, a scandal involving a candidate convicted of drug trafficking delivered the mortal blow.

New Landscape

Chile’s political landscape is in flux, considering that the cycle for the 2025 elections is starting. The government will have to evaluate its own responsibility for the far-right surge and see how far its program remains viable.

The traditional right will have to decide if it maintains dialog or fuses with the Republicans. And of course, it must avoid the perception of imposing its ideas in the constitutional draft, something it claimed the left did during the previous process.

On the other side, the traditional left will also have to decide if it joins the new left coalition or risk extinction.

Chile is now dominated by the right-wing spectrum but governed by the left.

I would venture to project that the groups that were defeated in 2022 will re-emerge, as the parties continue to dominate, and the conservative agenda is ascendent.

A relevant fact is that a record 20 percent of voters spoiled their ballots or got a permit to abstain, which can be interpreted as a sign of protest against the agreement the parties hammered out on the rules of the game, ignoring civil society.

It’s possible that a nuisance is incubating and growing and forms the foundation for rejecting the constitutional draft in December.

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