Two political parties emerged in the aftermath of the campaign against the new constitution that culminated with the plebiscite on Sept. 4. Both are marked by nostalgia for long gone glories. What’s more, both are anchored in the right, while claiming they are part of the left.
Chilean political leaders are predictable. Whenever a citizen movement arises and promises to not transform into a party – soon it becomes … a party. In addition, their leaders usually jump from one movement to another, while always alluding to their past. They are “ex” something: ex-Christian Democrats, ex-socialist, ex-radical.
This trajectory is apparent in the careers of some key Christian Democrats, such as former ministers Soledad Alvear and Mariana Aylwin. Since leaving the party, they created the Community in Motion, Progressivism with Progress, and the Movement in Progress. Others even joined the presidential campaigns of right-wing candidates.
They all have some curious things in common: They define themselves as center-left and are tough opponents of President Gabriel Boric. Of course, they voted to reject the constitutional proposal on Sept. 4. They claim to be liberal and some even say that others have changed but not them.
Oscar Guillermo Garretón, a former minister of Salvador Allende, who had to flee the country after the 1973 coup and returned clandestinely to push a violent overthrow of Augusto Pinochet, moved from MAPU – a radical movement in Allende’s Popular Unity coalition – to the Amarillos – a supposedly centrist group formed to oppose the constitutional proposal. He justified the decision by saying, “I have not changed so much, the direction of the center-left is what changed.” A phrase worthy of a therapeutic consultation.
Apart from Amarillos (the Yellow ones, a color associated in Chile with centrism), the Democratic Party is also new. Both are led by a small elite that calls itself center-left, even though they have nothing – nothing – in common with the center-left. Some of their members, who held high positions in the Concertación governments which ruled after the dictatorship, even flirted with the right for some years. Some have left the Christian Democrats, even though they were not bound by party principles or leadership decisions.
As a difference, Amarillos concentrates Concertación nostalgics, who yearn for the glory days of 20 years ago. Its founders are around 60 and were lawmakers, senators, or ministers. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is the result of the tragedy the Christian Democratic Party, once the country’s biggest and most important one, has experienced. It was founded by 75 former members, the most prominent ones being senators Matías Walker and Ximena Rincón, who in spirit but not in deed left the Christian Democrats long ago and raised their profiles as public faces against the constitutional proposal.
Surely, Amarillos and the Democrats will forge alliances with some right-wing parties. It seems positive to me that, at last, this disenchanted group takes flight and gets sincere regarding their positions.
Beyond political considerations, however, the lack of creativity is striking. As in the US, the Democratic Party will compete for votes with the Republican Party, which surprised by electing 15 lawmakers in 2021, opposes any constitutional change whatsoever and pushes misogynistic positions.
But of course, this Democratic Party is also on the right. Competition might soon turn into cannibalism.
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.