Chile: Abstention wins again in second round

Social and political instability to continue into next period

Chile has entered a new political cycle. A high percentage of the population simply doesn’t believe in the “democratic” institutions of capitalism, doesn’t believe in the right-wing two party system, or Bachelet’s “New Majority”. These institutions are those who have been hit hardest in the second round of the Presidential elections, in which only 5.6 million (41%) out of an electorate of 13 million voted. It is clear that a crisis of leadership affects both political blocks (Alianza and Concertacion) parties, both of which are in decline. Less and less people have any faith in either of them.

On the day of the second round – 15 December – all the press underlined how they encountered many voting and counting stations empty. They even reported on count vigilators sleeping on the job, such was the lack of work voters were giving them.

Of course, to claim that in abstaining, voters were putting forward a political position would be absurd. However, the fact that the majority of the population did not vote does indicate something in terms of the lack of real democracy in Chile. People have simply stopped believing that participating in the political process under the current conditions can change anything. This must be understood in connection with the massive discontent which exists and which was shown in the huge mobilisations of 2011 and 2012, when millions of workers and young people demonstrated on the streets in all cities.

Another important element to take into account is that those who did vote were fundamentally the older layers. Among those under 40, very few turned out to vote. In other words, those who were on the front like of the massive protests of 2011 and 2012 are precisely those who did not vote! The students’ representatives have made it clear that they have no confidence that the new government will do anything to change the problems which affect them.

Social and political instability will continue in the next period

A section of the ruling class has illusions in the idea that Bachelet’s “New Majority” can bring a new period of social and political stability in the country, and that the new government will better cover up the contradictions of neo-liberalism capitalism and the cracks which had emerged in society, especially following the offensive by students and workers in 2011 and 2012. As the saying goes "hope is always the last thing to be lost".

In their desperation to win, Bachelet and the "New Majority" made many promises which they will not be able to keep in practise, for example free education, a new constitution, and tax reform to name but a few. These promises were also made in a deceptive way, for example the promise to bring in a New Constitution, but in the small print clarifying that it should be drawn up "through the institutions. This in reality means a new constitution drawn up by MPs, who along with the political parties are those with the least credibility in the country. Many in the country are demanding a Constituent Assembly, to draw up a new constitution which is genuinely representative of the people of the country, many of whom voted for Bachelet thinking her government would convoke a Constituent Assembly. These people did not pay close enough attention to the small print in her programme and will be dissapointed with the reality of how things play out under her government.

Many think and hope that this Bachelet government will be different to her last period in office, during which we must remember that brutal repression was handed out to students protesting against profit in education and against striking workers. It was a government which defended precisely the interests of the bosses, the most striking example being the repression which the Mapuche indigenous movement suffered, with the murder of various young Mapuche people and the application of the undemocratic "anti-terrorist" law designe by the Pinochet dicactorship to repress social movements, now implemented by a sp-called "socialist".

The social movements will not be domesticated

There is fairly generalised discontent among the population, especially the youth who did not live under the dictatorship, both students and young workers, who cannot be subjected to the same blackmail as many of the older generation who harbour fears of things "going too far" and returning to a new dictatorship. Thesse young people have only known governments of the Concertacion and Pinera’s government and they feel conned and ripped off by both. It also must be stressed that the real electoral support for Bachelet is very low: in theory she won 62% but this is out of only 40% who voted, which leaves her with a real support of around 25%, which is much less than she received when she won the 2005 elections to become President for the first time.

The student movement has already made clear, they have no confidence in Bachelet and remember the repression of her previous government. They have already threatened with new mobilisations and protests against her government. Young people want to see concrete measures to end the private education system and its profiteering.

Everything points to the probability that the "honeymoon" of the future government will be very short and that the high expectations that some have in Bachelet will be quickly dispelled. This will be like throwing petrol on the fire of discontent and struggle which we have seen in the last years.

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