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The meaning of Chile’s Republican Party triumph

The news on Sunday, May 7 was the electoral success of Chile’s far-right Republican Party in the election of the Constitutional Council. Not even the best forecasts predicted such a categorical victory. The majority obtained by the Republicans, with 22 elected councilors who obtained 35.4% of the votes in an election with 84.9% of the electoral roll participation, positions it as the most voted force. This is unprecedented electoral growth for a party since the return to democracy in Chile. What explains this resounding triumph?

In the first place, a jaded electorate with a bitter taste after the previous constituent process. The traditional political parties, after the triumph of the rejection, were even more worn out by the effort to keep the constituent process alive. This mainly impacted the electorate of Chile Vamos (center right to right political coalition), which, by the result they obtained, had not reached any consensus, and was one of the most weakened political forces. The sum of all Chile Vamos parties reached approximately 21% of the vote, far below the Republican Party.

In addition, the country’s context contributed to creating a favorable scenario for the Republicans. Public discussion has been marked by the government’s inability to control the problems of security, violence, and immigration, topics that have been the fighting flags of this party. And if we add to this the negative economic situation and the increase in unemployment, it is natural that the electorate wanted to give a signal of punishment to the Government. Proof of this is that the 37.6% of the votes obtained by the pro-government pact is similar to the 38% obtained by the “Apruebo” (approve).

Another not minor issue is the discursive tuning of the Republican Party with the country’s context. Its programmatic simplicity, however, has been accurate with the problems that most concern public opinion, and this had an effect. Although Chile Vamos also sought to position itself in these aspects, its more conciliatory and committed position with the constituent process gave it a more diffuse position before impatient citizenship, the same happened to the other right-wing party, Partido de la Gente.

Once again, the citizenry privileges new faces and punishes the traditional parties and those lacking programmatic clarity. With this result, the political parties that dominated Chilean politics for more than thirty years after the return to democracy have been stunned. However, some attribute the result to the political parties’ own atrophy and limitations in exercising representation, in exchange for maintaining personalist and clientelistic methods.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that this result is not necessarily due to the fact that the Republican Party has strong roots in society, but that it is a punishment vote dominated by emotion and frustration. According to this idea, the crisis of the parties will continue and this election is one more milestone in the process of decomposition of the Chilean political system.

This pessimism is based on a structuralist perspective of political parties. The argument tends to underestimate the regenerative capacity that the party system itself could offer. Hence, many embraced, without questioning, the constituent process opened in 2019 and held a convention heavily influenced by social and independent actors, who assigned it a healing significance to the political system. This interpretation underestimates the regenerative capacity of the party system.

So far, the traditional parties seem rather incapable of understanding the nature of the transmuted Chilean society’s problems. But was not the constitutional proposal of the Constituent Convention, offered by this new left, a programmatic proposal made to the citizenry? The resounding failure of the Apruebo in last year’s plebiscite makes it clear that the ideas contained in the Constitution presented to the citizens were not at all in tune with the requirements of Chilean society. However, it is undeniable that this was a clear manifestation that the parties are still capable of pushing for change from within.

Therefore, the result of these elections should be interpreted as part of the regeneration process of the political party system. The Republican Party was able to outline a programmatic proposal based on a diagnosis and definition of the nature of the problems afflicting the country. The depth and accuracy of its programmatic proposal may be debated, but there is a clear positioning and prioritization of the issues that concern citizens today. This story is not yet closed, and we will see later if his ideas take root.  

The point is that the “regeneration” of Chilean political parties will not come from outsiders. That recipe did not work anymore. The change will come from within. Events such as the agreement (led by the traditional parties) that defined the framework of the new constitutional process or the emergence of parties such as the Republican Party, are part of the process of metamorphosis and not necessarily of the decomposition of the country’s politics.

Some political parties will die, others will be born and some will make their power of decision enduring. From this point of view, considering the current weakness of the parties and their lack of roots and mobilizing capacity, the key is to establish diagnoses adjusted to reality and to articulate coherent programs for the citizens. Only in this way will the longed-for roots be able to grow, which will be the necessary support for the parties’ future projection.

For now, the center-right and center-left parties, the most damaged by this journey, will have to learn the lesson. But the triumph of the Republicans should not be minimized, and rather, its scope in this process of conversion of Chile’s political system should be examined.

*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Otros artículos del autor
Politólogo y profesor asociado  del Departamento de Sociología, Ciencia Política y Administración Pública de la Universidad Católica de Temuco (Chile). Doctor en Historia y Magister en Ciencia Política por la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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