Chile: Presidential elections – no workers’ alternative on offer

No difference between main candidates

In the upcoming Chilean presidential elections, the main candidates, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle and Sebastian Piñera are like two sides of the same coin, between whom no real differences exist. Both promoted and supported the dictatorship of Pinochet and continue to support the dictatorship of the bosses, who filled their pockets under the Pinochet regime, and want to stay in power to defend the richest 1% in the country, to which they both belong. The interests of workers and the poor do not fit into their priorities.

Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle

Christian Democratic Party leader Frei was President of Chile during the period between 1994 and 2000 and currently serves as a senator. During his administration, he began negotiations that would end in the signing of FTAs (‘Free Trade Agreements’) with the United States, China, and the European Union (EU).

His government also gave a new impetus to the process of privatisation, including that of strategic sectors of the economy, such as water supply and treatment, and education. His government’s policies also had a disastrous impact on the environment and the indigenous Mapuche people.

Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s hated former dictator was arrested and detained for 17 months in London during this time. The government worked tirelessly for his return to Chile, arguing that the arrest represented a violation of sovereignty. The situation was resolved when the British First Minister, ‘New labour’s’ Jack Straw, citing neurological and health examinations of the 84 year old, returned him to Chile in March 2000. He was greeted at the airport by Ricardo Izurieta, Commander in Chief of the army, whom Frei had appointed!

Sebastian Piñera

The traditional right-wing candidate, and Senator of the Republic between 1990 and 1998, Piñera was a presidential candidate in 2005, when he was defeated in a run-off by Michelle Bachelet, the current president.

Throughout his career, he has accumulated a large fortune. In Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people in 2009, he was ranked 701st, with a fortune of $1 billion.

Marco Enríquez-Ominami

The case of Enríquez-Ominami (son of the historic leader of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), Dr. Miguel Enriquez) is slightly different. A Socialist Party MP until June 2009, when he left to stand as an independent candidate. Yet Enríquez-Ominami is certainly not interested in fundamental change. He stands for “change” which would not change anything! He merely raises the need for a ‘generational change’ in political leadership in Chile. His intention is to continue with privatisation and to defend the interests of the rich with a “progressive” face. He has proposed the privatisation of 5% of of Codelco, Chile’s main state-owned copper company. He is the only presidential candidate to have openly called for the privatisation of a major state-owned company.

Jorge Arrate or Alejandro Navarro?

Jorge Arrate Mac Niven, Socialist Party (PS) leader, was responsible for some major achievements, as part of the government of Salvador Allende, including the nationalisation of the copper industry.

However, in exile following the 1973 coup, he was the driving force behind the Socialist Party’s right wing. At the beginning of Chile’s ‘transition’, he re-unified the Socialist Party and won it over to neo-liberal policies.

In successive Concertation goverments, Arrate served as Minister of Labor, Education and Secretary General of the Presidency. As education minister in the government of Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, he drove forward the privatisation of education. He has the support of the PS and the Communist Party, which has made an electoral pact with the current Coalition, and in the second round will call for a vote for Frei.

Arrate is clearly not a serious candidate and certainly does not represent a real alternative. His candidacy will not attract those genuinely on the left. Everyone knows he is standing only to transfer votes to Frei in a run-off, and to try to ensure a Communist Party quota for parliament.

On the other hand, Alejandro Navarro unfortunately does not represent an alternative either, and has not taken the decision to break with the Concertation or the Bachelet government. A senator and former MP, he was a member of the Socialist Party until he decided to run for President and resigned from the PS in 2008, launching the MAS (a broad social movement). In September 2009, he agreed to a parliamentary bloc with the PRI, a right wing split from the PDC (Christian Democratic Party), led by Senator Adolfo Zaldivar, a wealthy businessman. As part of this covenant, Navarro expelled a dissenting section of the MAS, including its general secretary. As shown in the polls, Navarro will not be seen as a real alternative to the main candidates, and as such, workers and the poor will prefer to vote for the original (the current government) than its carbon copy.

Workers and the poor have no alternative in these elections

Given the left’s inability to put forward a candidate representative of workers and the poor of Chile, we are left with no alternative in December’s presidential elections.

All this we owe to the current undemocratic system, and Chilean constition, which impede the democratic participation of Chilean workers and poor, a situation which the both traditional right and Concertation governments have refused to change. In our opinion, workers and youth have no choice but to cast a blank vote in these elections.

Should we participate in elections?

Marxists use elections to argue for revolutionary socialist change, and to win positions in order to represent the working class, poor and young people. At the same time, we refuse to become chained in by the capitalist political establishment.

When revolutionary socialists take part in elections, we don’t do it only with the intention of winning votes, adapting our policies so that the people vote for us, and creating illusions that we are going to change society and the life of the working class purely via the electoral process. Our task does not consist of sowing illusions in the capitalist electoral system, and this is why one of our main slogans when we take part in elections is that "voting is not enough, you have to organise and fight ".

We have to use elections to put forward our programme – revolutionary socialism – and to denounce the capitalist system, in a period when important sectors of the population are becoming politicised and to a certain extent feel interested in discussing political ideas.

Youth do not accept the system

In the case of Chile, winning new militants is particularly hard during these elections, because of the old, cynical nature of the candidates. We also have to take into account the fact that more than three million people have not registered to vote in these elections, especially young people, although a percentage of them are not really young anymore. In Chile, only 27% of young people of voting age (18-30) are registered to vote.

We must take up carefully the issue of young people who do not want to register. We should not insist that they register in a system which is undemocratic, vicious and corrupted. The instinct of young people refusing to register reflects their rejection of the present system. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they all embrace revolutionary ideas and are ready to break with capitalism, but they are people who could potentially play an important role if we are able to approach them with socialist ideas.

Without breaking with the capitalist system, there can be no real change

We must not cheat or lie to the working poor. The current system breeds the injustice, famine and misery that wide layers of the population are suffering from. The only alternative that exploited and alienated people have, is to build a different society, a more fair and more democratic one: a socialist society. Socialismo Revolucionario fights for the building of a workers’ party to fight for this end.

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