In the Chilean local elections which took place on 28 October, 2012, the big winner was abstention, at over 60%! In this way, a majority of Chileans decided not to participate in the electoral system which is rapidly losing credibility, reflecting the discrediting of both the political parties and institutions of the Chilean state. People have come to realise and see that there is practically no difference between the two main political blocs, in terms of their concrete policies and proposals. They are sick of the two right wings – the “Alliance” and the “Concertacion”.
No party or coalition can claim victory in these elections. They represented a further important step towards the completely non-representative character of the political institutions. Newly elected mayors will have had the support of only 2 out of every 10 residents whom they claim to “democratically” represent. Despite this, the 2 principal political coalitions don’t hesitate to celebrate their great “triumphs”, spouting their love for the so-called “representative” system, when they in reality represent almost noone.
No political force can claim credit for the level of abstention. It would be quite adventurous to suggest that the 60% who did not vote, did so because of the call of a small group of students, who mounted a campaign against participation. Many company bosses also encouraged abstention, putting pressure on workers - in some cases offering economic incentives to stay in work, and in others directly threatening them to do so. Many others abstained, feeling alienated from the process, not identifying with either of the main forces. To this we must of course add a certain de-politicised layer.
It is true that there was a significant sector, particularly among the youth, encouraged abstention, and saw it as a political statement, even a revolutionary one, of opposition to the state and institutions. The political problem with abstention understood in these terms is that it can be explained and understood in many ways. The defenders of the system declare unashamedly that people do not vote because they feel that all is well, and are in agreement with the current state of things - thus, why vote for a change? However, any serious examination will make it clear that abstention has much deeper root causes, and that it has everything to do with the anger and discontent which exists in society. Until now, these sentiments have not been given a clear expression in organisation and struggle in order to change things. We see this not only in the abstention rate in elections, but also in the low level of trade union membership and activism, and low participation in community organisations. Thus, while reflecting this anger and discontent, abstention does not send a clear political message, for a fundamental change or otherwise. It indicates not a clear proposal for change, but only a generalised rejection of the status quo.
The defeat of mayors who symbolised the Pinochet dictatorship
A development which "saved the day" in many respects, was the humiliating defeat of a string of mayors, symbolic figure-heads of the right wing and associated with the Pinochet dictatorship. There was widespread relief and rejoicing at the defeat of Cristián Labbe in Providencia, for example. This was an ex-military coronel who played a leading role in the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship, which tortured and murdered thousands of people. Another significant development was the electoral defeat of the mayors most closely identified with the brutal repression of the student movement in 2011, like Pedro Sabat in Nunoa, and Pablo Zalaquet in Santiago. This gave great satisfaction to the millions of young people and their families who share a great hatred of these pillars of the most reactionary right wing.
One thing that can be said confidently following these elections, is that they represented a deep rejection of the two main political blocks - the right-wing Alliance, and the ’Concertacion’ - which have shared the spoils of power for the last 23 years. People are beginning to realise that these two right wing coalitions serve only the interests of big business. Both blocks saw a big drop in votes, with the right wing Alianza losing somewhat more than the Concertacion. However, the fall in support for both was the strongest feature of the results, with no force able to claim to have "won". In Santiago, the "victorious" Concertacion candidate, recieved less votes than in the previous elections, when she lost by an ample margin to the right-wing candidate! This says all that is necessary about the "great support" which these victors will claim, as both Alianza and Concertacion blocks have both embarked on grand campaigns to minimise the impact of this electoral hammering.
The Communist Party and its pact with the Concertacion
In these elections, the CP made a "non-agression" pact with the Concertacion. This allowed it to make some advances, going from 4 to 6 mayors, and winning a but more than 100 councillors at a national level. These results by no means represent a new influx of voters towards the CP, when abstention is taken into account. In the Recoleta area, they won the mayorship with 41% of the votes, but in this area, 64% of people abstained, leaving them with the real support of only 13% of potential voters. Also significant is that the CP’s choice of alliance partners inside the Concertacion alliance this time round, leaves them weakened in the dividing up of positions in the alliance in the run up to next year’s parliamentary elections.
Clearly, to associate with the Concertacion, itself responsible for decades of neo-liberal attacks, is not the best way to go about building a left alternative, quite the opposite. On the contrary, it is necessary for a new political alternative to be built, which is clearly distunguished from this increasingly discredited coalition.
In the current context, these elections were a difficult scenario for the launching of a new left alternative, due to the massive discrediting and rejection of the electoral institutions. However, added to this are a number of other obstacles, in an electoral system where money is an important factor. In the current system, it is big business, through its money and resources who fundamentally decide who will dominate the elections. These massive financial obstacles start at the very beginning of the process, when a huge cash deposit is required for the legalisation of any electoral candidature. It continues right up to the end of the process, with the custom of vote-buying, from the giving of free food, to the offering of direct economic incentives, practised by both main political blocks.
The Igualdad party, on whose lists Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) participated, arising from communities of the workers and poor, had to make herculean efforts to collect the signatures and resources necessary to stand in the elections, before the campaign had even begun. However, despite the obstacles and attempts to gag the real opposition, Igualdad managed to stand in the elections, and mount an encouraging campaign, which will serve as the base for future battles.
For the building of a real left alternative
The ’Izquierda Popular’ alliance, made up of the ’Movimiento Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez’, and Socialismo Revolucionario, along with other left and workers’ leaders stood candidates on the lists of the Igualdad Party. Our campaign emphasised that the struggle against the policies of the right needed to be taken beyond the limits of the post-Pinochet "legality" and consitution. Our joint platform of 11 points, went far the beyond a strictly "municipal" programme, calling for the nationalisation of the country’s wealth and resources, for a new "labour code", and the end of privatisations, among others. Socialismo Revolucionario stood 2 candidates for mayor, Celso Calfullan in Recoleta and Patricio Guzman in La Florida, as well as Andres Roman for a council position in Recoleta. In total, our candidates won over 4,000 votes, more than tripling the results of our previous electora campaigns.
From this encouraging but modest basis, we aim to fight for the rebuilding of the Chilean left, of an alternative of the workers, poor, the youth, and all who today are moving into struggle against capitalism. Such a left could raise the banner of a new society, a socialist democracy which puts an end to the inequality, the bosses’ abuses, and the misery of millions. Of course, such a struggle goes beyond mere elections, and demands the organisation of communities, workers and youth in the growing struggles to come.