Chile: Right wing victory in Presidential elections

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After 20 years of lies, empty promises and the maintenance of neo-liberal economic policies, first by the Pinochet dictatorship, then by the ‘centre-left’ Concertacion (Concert of Parties for Democracy) coalition governments which followed, Chileans have finally tired of believing that the Concertacion government’s promises would be realised.

The victory of right wing candidate Sebastian Pinera in Sunday’s Presidential elections comes after 2 decades of hope in the promise that “happiness would come”, and that eventually, one of the previous 4 Concertacion Presidents would fulfil the original programme of the coalition and improve the lives of the Chilean majority.

Right wing candidate, Sebastian Pinera, victory in Presidential elections

Has Chilean society moved to the right?

This background is what explains Pinera’s victory, with 51.6% of the vote, against the 48.3% won by Concertacion candidate, Eduardo Frei. However, it is crucial to understand that these votes were drawn from the little over 50% of those entitled to vote, who cast ballots on the day. In reality, Pinera received the votes of less than 30% of those of voting age in Chile, the vast majority of which come from the older generation. Pinera got 3.5 million votes out of a total of 12 million legally eligible voters.

This result reflects the glaring absence of a political alternative to the right wing, which is capable of arousing the enthusiasm of the majority of the Chilean working class. In particular, amongst the young generation (of whom around 75% refuse to register to vote) the feeling of alienation and disillusionment with the system is deep and widespread. The massive number of people (over 40%) who either abstained, cast blank or spoiled votes or refused to register to vote cannot be ignored when analysing the results of these elections. This layer, particularly the young generation, are destined to play a defining role in developments in Chilean society in the next period.

Thus, these do not elections give an accurate picture of political and social attitudes in Chile at this time

The vote that Pinera obtained does not even equal to the one-third support which the right wing has consistently obtained throughout Chile’s recent history. Therefore, to speak of the election results as a “move to the right” in Chilean society is to ignore reality. Pinera’s vote does not represent an ideological victory for the right, but rather, in a way, a blow to the neo-liberal politics pursued over the last 20 years by political forces masquerading as “progressive”.

Pinera’s populism

Pinera’s central campaign slogans included, “continue with change” and “a government programme for change, the future and hope”. One of his main pledges was to “create 1 million new jobs, with decent stable salaries” a promise which will prove extremely difficult to keep, when even capitalist economists predict that the next period will see an increase in unemployment, or at least the maintenance of the currently high jobless rate. Other campaign promises included, “employment subsidies for suspended civil servants, youth and the disabled”, “respect for, and an end to the abuse of, the rights of workers”, and “the strengthening of trade unions and collective bargaining”.

These four principle campaign slogans accompanied many similar promises. It is clear that with these promises, Pinera is playing with fire, as his inevitable failure to realise them could provoke an explosive reaction. One important difference compared with the Concertacion, is that Pinera cannot exercise the same control over the trade union leaders, in order to use them as a brake on struggles developing in the future (as the Concertacion has up until now).

Pinera, in his campaign, capitalised on the discontent at the Concertacion’s maintenance of the model of anti-popular exploitation initiated by the dictatorship in the 1970s. This includes the discontent at the privatisations, the attacks on social and workers’ rights, attacks on public services like health and education, against the precariousness of labour, the exploitation of our natural resources (particularly copper), and against the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the huge growth in inequality.

The election results also give an expression to the opposition and disillusionment with an anti-democratic political system, which today functions in the interests of the bosses, without genuine participation and is stacked against workers and the poor.

The Concertacion’s criminal ‘whitewashing’ of the right wing

Those primarily responsible for Pinera’s victory are the Concertacion. The leaders of the former government parties have dedicated recent years to declaring that there exists a “new right”, a “democratic right”, with which it was important to ‘come to agreement’. They dedicated the last period to this “agreement”, which saw a ‘re-distribution’ of the profits and loot gathered at the cost of the exploitation of the working class, which saw the Concertacion leaders becoming embedded in the Chilean ruling elite.

During their electoral campaigns, the Concertacion have sought to confront the right wing, on the basis that Pinera, and previous right wing candidates, Lavin and Larrain, had been part of the dictatorship, only to continue afterwards with the same policies – defending the interests of the bosses and the rich and attacking the living standards of the working class – as the right wing had implemented when they were in power.

Former Military dictator, Augusto Pinochet – pro-Pinochet hardliners make up majority of Pinera’s parliamentary support

The victory of the right is in no way the responsibility of the workers, much less that of the thousands of youths who in the past gave their lives in the fight against the dictatorship. The responsibility lies wholly with those who have negotiated with the ‘Pinochetistas’, betraying the desire for change felt by millions of Chilean workers and youth.

Although Pinera does not in reality represent the classical policies of the far right (having made numerous criticisms of the dictatorship during his campaign) there are sinister forces present in his government. Indeed, the UDI (Independent Democratic Union), a more openly pro-Pinochet party, make up the largest part of Pinera’s support in parliament; a fact which by no means augurs well for the Chilean working class.

The likes of Alwin, Frei, Lagos, Bachelet, and Escalona, (all present and former Concertacion leaders), along with many others, who are now without doubt, negotiating with the right to preserve their privileges, are the architects of this situation.

The Concertacion have now begun to congratulate the right on its victory, speaking of the democratic, representative nature of the Chilean electoral system and necessity of “all Chileans to unite”. They speak of a government of “national unity” and the necessity to continue with the “politics of consensus”, only now this rhetoric comes from a so-called “opposition”.

Workers can only expect more attacks from the right

The coming to power of a right wing government, led by an ambitious billionaire (reports have ranked Pinera as Chile’s third richest citizen, with a reputed $1.2 billion fortune) does not bode well for the working class. We must only remember the right wing government of Jorge Alessandri and the Pinochet dictatorship to get an idea of the kind of attacks that we must prepare for. Every time the right has gained power, they have been brutal in their attacks.

One thing about being faced with a clear enemy of the workers (such as is Pinera) is that the excuses of the trade union leaders in the CUT (Workers’ United Centre), that it is impossible to mobilise to defend our rights – in case the Concertacion government would be undermined, allowing the right wing to take power – have absolutely no basis now.

Now, with a right wing in government, there is no reason not to mobilise to defend our rights and to take back all that we lost under the dictatorship, which the Concertacion denied to us on the basis that it might lead the right back to power. Now it is clear that they themselves have paved the way for the right wing’s return.

The genuine left can now have no confidence in the Concertacion, who have proven themselves completely incapable of stopping the right wing’s advance. Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) fights for the building of a new mass party of the working class and youth which can make the case for the socialist transformation of society, the only solution capable of solving the fundamental problems facing the working class and poor in Chile today.

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January 2010