Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Chilean elections

The next general election is under way soon. Initially I thought that the diaspora could vote - I planned on going to the Chilean embassy - but it so transpires that is not the case. (It was mooted as a possibility for a while, but the Chilean right rejected it since the diaspora consists principally of political asylum seekers, who are leftist.)

I feel that these elections are more reciprocal there than here. Whilst it is cynical in the sense that dollops of money are spent on propaganda and campaigning, any political party can snatch victory provided they capture the public's imagination. In the last election, a third-party canditate, Ominami, amassed over 20% of the vote and almost made into the second ballot. Here that is unthinkable because of the nature of the parliamentary system. The SDP in 1983 attained almost the same share of votes as Labour, but didn't get many seats in parliament because they didn't win in local councils.

The two candidates for this election are women: Michelle Bachelet, from the centre-left ConcertaciĆ³n and Evelyn Matthei, from the centre-right Alianza Unida. Bachelet was tortured by the military and spent several years in exile. To the credit of Matthei, she played a hand in blocking another coup Pinochet had in store after the 1988 referendum. Apparently they both lived in the same neighbourhood as young girls and played together. (The upper middle classes all know each other in Chile, so stories like these are hardly infrequent.)

 
Michelle Bachelet

On a social level, I think that things are on a rise. All the aparatniks and levellers of power are finally being confronted. You can finally have a conversation with a right-wing reactionary bigot and convince that person he is wrong. The student protests are also raising a number of pertinent topics onto the agenda.

The centre-right government that has been in power over the last four years has been out of its depth. They have obstinately clung to claims which show that they clearly do not understand the demands made by the student movement. 'We believe that everyone should have a choice between a private and public education and that we shouldn't state should not legislate otherwise.' The glaringly obvious point to make is that hardly anyone can choose to have a quality education. Chile is one of the most unequal societies in the world. You are born into prosperity, rather than work your way into it. That's why radical reforms should be passed.

It is clear that Michelle Bachelette will win. She is a popular candidate and the Alianza has proved to be incompetent in its four year term. It will be a landslide victory. The question is that, after already having served a four year term in the past, she proved to be lethargic at times, precisely on the question of education. It cannot be questioned that she made invaluable decisions on health and welfare. In their twenty years of government, the ConcertaciĆ³n's policies were incremental. The neo-liberal economic system left by Pinochet was largely left untouched and it is precisely because of this that Chile remains a very unequal and inequitable society.


 
Evelyn Matthei

Onimani once more is standing as candidate. Whilst this is dandy and fine, I still would not vote for him. Protests votes do not always translate into great governments. Here the Liberal Democrats revoked many of their progressive policies once they formed a coalition. Not to mention that third-party candidates who come along and say 'Vote for me!' every four years do not have a ministerial system in place. In the unlikely event that they get their share of power, it would most likely prove to be a shambles.

Of course, the main issue is education. Solve that and you solve a whole umbrella of contingent issues. Other major problems that need to be rectified are ones that are constantly tampered and silenced by the Catholic Church. Whilst the church proved indispensable as a force of resistance against Pinochet, they are now pulling Chile back in a number of ways. Because Chile is such a pious country, divorce and abortion are prohibited (the latter even in cases of rape). I also think that attitudes towards homosexuals are also atrocious. I have no issues with people's religious needs, but the clerical influence needs to be admonished.

I certainly love Chile and in an ideal world I would much rather live there (I may do in the foreseeable future). One aspect that does wear me down when I am there is the level of commodification. In many ways, it can feel like one big shopping mall at times. Advertisements abound everywhere. That is the depressing nature of free markets, which is a hangover from Pinochet.

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