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Where is Chilean politics going?

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On December 17, the constitutional process initiated in 2019 after the popular revolt will culminate. It will culminate, in part, due to the discontent and disinterest of a population subjected to other more immediate and urgent events. And it will culminate whether the new constitutional proposal is approved or rejected. It was President Gabriel Boric himself who announced the closing of a cycle of great intensity but with no effects. In these four years, Chileans have experienced a popular revolt with dozens of deaths and hundreds of wounded and mutilated, the confinement of the pandemic with traumatic effects on social life, and several plebiscites with frustrating results.

During this period, Chileans have oscillated from street indignation to contained anger in polls and elections. A drift that tends, as happens in almost all liberal democracies, towards the right and the extreme right. Just as in other latitudes, the burning daily life with all its innumerable problems drives a population that is now demobilized and unmotivated to look for other alternatives. A somewhat desperate call that the right is answering.

Since September 2022, at least two events have occurred that have altered the political scene. On September 4 of that year, one in six Chileans rejected a constitutional proposal prepared by representatives of organizations that had a mark placed on gender, environmental, and indigenous people identities. It was an interesting text in terms of institutional change but incapable of penetrating a population that proved to be very conservative as well as afraid.

The other event happened at the beginning of the year with the election of constitutional councilors for a second constitutional process. An election that gave an unexpected and resounding majority to the constitutional conservatives, nationalists, authoritarians and neoliberals, among other variants with similar roots. That panel wrote a constitution in its own way. It is a document so excessive that for many commentators it surpasses the current constitution in denying rights. That will be voted on December 17.

The polls again record a rejection of this proposal. A state of mind that local analysts observe as a tendency towards discomfort and anger. Whom? Of course, there is the government first, to put the entire spectrum of authorities and elites in line. If President Boric is rejected, statistics that are no worse than those of previous governments, so are the congress and senate, the political parties, the judiciary, the business community, the media in a very long list of disappointments and contempt

A little over a week ago the campaign for the plebiscite began. The right and its variants call to vote in favor and the left and its nuances against. A campaign that has a bill similar to that of the last plebiscite: here there are no limits to delve into the most pressing fears and put a few more. A video in favor of the proposal that ended with an indignant nurse muttering “fuck them”… the politicians, who are, not tangentially but directly, supposedly responsible for crime, immigrants, inflation, corruption or drug trafficking. An anti-campaign that relates the solution to these daily problems with a new constitution. If the relationship is forced, the video has left its creators very satisfied: surveys record a narrowing between the two options.

José Antonio Kast’s Republican Party was not interested in changing the constitution drawn up during the dictatorship and reformed by President Ricardo Lagos. That Chile suits him. But the enormous majority obtained in the Constitutional Council motivated the Republicans, at first without great enthusiasm, to draft a new constitution tailored to their most traditional interests. Just as in the last plebiscite the left and identity groups were betting on their proposal, this time the Republicans and other right-wing parties are playing their most immediate political destiny in the next election. If they win, they will consolidate their project towards the municipal elections of 2024 and from there to the legislative and presidential elections of November 2025. Kast continues to lead the presidential polls followed by the historic of the UDI, the Pinochet mayor of Providencia Evelyn Matthei.

December 17 could become a reinforcement of the course won by the right. If they win approval for the new constitution, they would have a legal framework tailored to their old interests from here to beyond, a fundamental victory to launch an early presidential and legislative race to embrace complete power in 2025. A scenario that cuts off their breath to a left and a government that has its program blocked by the conservative majorities in both chambers.

The polls still do not favor the right. But in times of anti-politics and misinformation, confusion, unrest and anger can alter predictions at the last minute.

Paul Walder

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