Chile Political Reviews

After four years of a right-wing coalition and occasionally strong social mobilization, in March 2014, Chile gained a center-left government under Michelle Bachelet. It is expected to be more radical than her previous government, and must deal with demands from social movements on tax reform, educational reform and constitutional change.

Both the presidential and parliamentary elections took place in the last two months of 2013. Michelle Bachelet, who had been the country’s first female president between 2006 and 2010, became head of state again. She won by 62 percent in the second round of elections against Evelyn Matthei. On a symbolic level, both candidates each represented their own part of the small political elite in the country, not least Chile’s political history and a still highly polarized society. The women have known each other since childhood, and their fathers were friends. Michelle Bachelet comes from the Socialist Party. Her father was a general and opponent of the coup for Pinochet in 1973. He died tortured by the coup makers. Evelyn Matthei represents Pinochet’s party UDI. Her father was also a general.

Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated in March 2014 and with that ended four years with Sebastián Piñera’s right-wing government. Coalition Nueva Mayoría, ” New Majority “,- supporting Bachelet, and ranging from the Christian Democrats to the Communist Party – made a good parliamentary election and now has a majority in both chambers. Still, it does not gather the qualified majority of 4/7 and 3/5 it needs to implement key parts of its reform program. In many cases, Nueva Mayoría can count on the support of several independent parliamentarians, while struggling to get enough votes from Christian Democrats to fulfill more radical election promises, such as decriminalization of therapeutic abortion. Although the Communist Party doubled its seats in the Chamber of Deputies from three in the previous period to six today, it lacks representation in the Senate.

Promised reforms

Bachelor’s three main election promises have been tax reform, educational reform and constitutional change. While constitutional issues will only be addressed in 2015, the tax reform was already adopted in September 2014. It aims to increase taxation on business to finance educational reform and the central promise of free higher education. In practice, many companies in Chile pay zero tax due to a scheme whereby dividends reinvested are exempt from taxation. The Bachelet Bill, presented in March 2014, aimed to phase out this scheme, which many consider to be a loophole. However, the Christian Democrats refused to support the bill when it was being considered by a commission in the Senate, and the major differences of opinion within the coalition thus appeared. The result was instead a negotiated consensus with the right side behind closed doors for a smaller tax increase. This negotiating practice was very widespread under the center-left coalition Concertación that ruled the country from 1990 to 2010. The practice has been criticized for being both democratic and a brake mechanism for reform.

Educational reform was also discussed with similar disagreements within Nueva Mayoría and with increasing pressure from student organizations. However, the section on primary and secondary schools was finally adopted towards the end of 2014. Schools subsidized by the state can no longer collect tuition fees and they must reinvest all the profits in the school. least resourceful. Questions related to higher education will be addressed in the future.

Another of the government’s very central bills, which was finally passed in January 2015, aimed at reforming the binominal electoral system where two representatives were elected from each constituency. This system originated from the dictatorship, and was designed, among other things, to lock the balance between two large established coalition blocs, and prevent smaller and new parties from gaining representation. In the reformed electoral system, both proportionality and representativeness increase, and in addition, parties must place at least 40 percent of female candidates on the electoral lists.

When it comes to the composition of the government, the promise of gender balance was not achieved, as only 9 of 23 ministers are women. At the same time, all parties within the coalition have received ministerial posts. It is the first time since the Allende era that the Communist Party is part of the government. The Communist Party has been given the Ministry of Women, the smaller parties Izquierda Ciudadana and Movimiento Ampio Social have received the Ministries of Public Assets and the Ministry of Sports respectively. Otherwise, the Christian Democrats and the Democratic Party PPD hold six ministries each, the Socialist Party has five ministerial posts, the Radical Party PRSD two and independent also two ministries.

Social mobilization

There are four emblematic student leaders from the 2011 protests in Parliament, two of whom are representatives of the Communist Party and two are independent. The student demonstrations began in 2011, among other things, with demands for free higher education. They gained support from over 80 percent of the population, and opened a national debate on the country’s development model. Chile has the world’s most expensive higher education income taken into account, and ranks second after the United States without this reservation. Chile is also the only country in Latin America where all (including public) universities and universities cost money. The students raised questions about possible re-nationalization of the copper industry to finance education and the privatized health and pension systems. In addition, they put reform of the electoral system and a new constitution on the agenda. These themes were thus forced into the 2013 election campaign. The student movement has since radicalized itself over the last two years with anarchist leadership in the largest and most influential organization Fech (Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile). The demonstrations are not as large as before, but they are still organized regularly.

2011 and 2012 also saw increased mobilization in northern Calama and southern regions of Magallanes and Aysén against Chile’s centralism and lack of economic and political regionalization, as well as against polluting energy projects. Due to the mobilization and pressure from the environmental organizations, the Bachelens government rejected one of the most controversial projects, HydroAysén. It would consist of five dams that would be expanded by the world’s largest nature reserves in southern Chile. According to Countryaah, the previous government had approved the project in 2011.

On September 11, 2013, it was 40 years since the military coup, which opened the debate on the country’s history and politics. Much footage of human rights violations following the coup was first shown on television in Chile, although recordings had long been known around the world. The 40-year mark strengthened political grassroots mobilization.

Requirements for a new constitution

Prior to the autumn 2013 election, a social movement arose with the support of several political actors for a participatory process around a new constitution. The movement argued that the current 1980 constitution had been drafted behind closed doors under the Pinochet regime and is therefore not legitimate. At the same time, the movement would give legitimacy to a new constitution through a participatory drafting process in a constitutional assembly, used by many other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador in recent years. Notably, the movement most often used Colombia as an example to curb criticism from the right.

Since the current constitution does not allow organizing a referendum to find out if there is a majority for a new constitutional vote, the motion asked people to use the presidential election to mark their votes with letters AC for Asamblea Constituyente, ” Constitutional Assembly,” in the corner. Michelle Bachelet has promised a new constitution in her program, but has signaled that putting together a constitutional assembly will not be relevant. While Bachelet is now abandoning the idea of ​​a constitutional assembly, which many of her ministers support, the demand from below is to democratize the current exclusionary political system.


In addition to political exclusion, great economic inequality and very low social mobility are the basis of the strong protests in recent years. Although poverty was significantly reduced after the transition from the dictatorship, Chile is characterized by enormous social differences. According to figures published of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) in 2013, Chile is one of the countries with the greatest inequality in the region: 20 percent of the poorest receive five percent of all income, while 20 percent of the richest receive 47 percent. For example, while Ecuador in the period 2007-2011 reduced its Gini coefficient by 0.08, Chile remained the same and still very high: 0.52. The Gini index measures economic inequality and is set as a number value from 0 to 1, the higher the numbers the greater the differences between the richest and the poorest. Norway is at 0.25.

A 2013 study from the Universidad de Chile shows that inequality in the country is even more extreme than expected. 30.5 percent of all income goes to the richest percent of the population. This is more than in the United States where 19.3 percent accrues to the richest percent. In addition, if you go even closer and look at the richest promill, it controls in Chile as much as 18 percent of revenue.

In 2011, UNESCO pointed out that the Chilean education system helps maintain and deepen these social differences through the segregation of rich and poor students.

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