Sunday, March 13, 2022

Camila Vergara, before the election, and now, in NACLA. "Fear of Fascism, Hope for Popular Empowerment in Chile"

Text below from the uncorrected proofs 

In the end, it was this visceral fear of hardline Pinochetism’s return to power that won the elections. The new voters who backed Boric in the run-off are not necessarily supporters of Apruebo Dignidad, the winning coalition comprised of Frente Amplio and the Communist Party, but rather their votes were driven by a fear of fascism. They marked their ballots, perhaps begrudgingly, to avoid a greater evil.

However, Boric’s official campaign appeared disconnected from this spontaneous, grassroots anti-fascist crusade. Boric only tangentially addressed the existential threat of having a far-right leader in power, focusing instead on hope for a better future. He stressed “responsible transformations” and “building bridges” with the opposition to achieve “harmony” and “social cohesion”—as if it were possible to negotiate and work together with an increasingly neofascist Right. The sunny and colorful campaign ads, slogans, and memes were close in tone and message to Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008, which emphasized a “more perfect union” and a shared dream for the future. Of course, as we now know, backlash ensued in the United States after this dream of unity and bipartisanship capitulated to the filibuster in Congress in the first two years of Obama’s administration.

In Chile, with a divided lower house and Senate, where the far right already has a strong presence, Boric will now face a similar scenario of legislative stalemate. But he will do so with a quarter of Obama’s charisma and riding on “borrowed votes” from the extra-parliamentary Left. The union through fear elevated Boric to the position of leader of an unlikely anti-fascist alliance, which paradoxically incorporated the parties of the defunct Concertación coalition—made up of the Christian Democratic Party (DC), Socialist Party (PS), and Party for Democracy (PPD)—that administrated the neoliberal model for most of the last three decades. The inclusion of establishment parties, for whom it was never a good time to pursue transformative change and social justice, hampers hope for structural transformations and immediate material improvements. Boric affirmed the moderation imposed by this alliance during his victory speech, emphasizing the need for a “responsible” movement forward in “small steps.”

But even moderate reforms might be difficult to achieve given that Boric’s Apruebo Dignidad is a minority in both houses of Congress. While in the lower house it has 24 percent of the seats, in the Senate it has only 10 percent. To make up for this weak legislative position, Boric once again had to seek support from the parties of the ex-Concertación, which control 24 percent of the lower chamber and 36 percent of the Senate. Party negotiations produced an alliance between Apruebo Dignidad and the traditional center-left parties, excluding the DC. In Boric’s cabinet, members of the ex-Concertación not only head 29 percent of the ministries, but they also occupy two of the most powerful posts in terms of control and budget access: the Ministries of Finance and Public Works. Despite the incorporation of parties of the ex-Concertación, the government still doesn’t have a majority and thus will struggle to legislate against a strong right-wing coalition that has vowed to oppose structural transformations.

...With a social democratic president focused on parliamentary dialogue and negotiation—and for whom Congress seems more “balanced” than divided—the prospects for a transition to a new sociopolitical order look bleak. It remains to be seen whether this “hinge government” between neoliberal democracy and the new constitutional order currently being designed by the Constitutional Convention will ultimately be able to reconfigure the forces of the status quo and establish a new center in which “responsible transformations” will be possible. Given his attachment to dialogue, it is unlikely that Boric will be willing to rule by decree to bypass Congress if legislative deadlock persists. Such respect for procedures would make it impossible to properly implement new constitutional norms, deepening the political crisis and igniting the anger of the popular sectors who only supported Boric out of fear of a return to Pinochetismo.

However, not all is lost. Since Chile is in the midst of a constituent process, launched with a plebiscite in October 2020 and scheduled to yield a new constitutional text to be ratified this September, there is a chance that the new constitution could incorporate direct democracy mechanisms that would allow the people to initiate legislation and force a referendum. In recent months, the Constitutional Convention has held hundreds of public hearings with grassroots organizations that have demanded local decision-making authority and direct democratic procedures to decentralize power and properly protect the environment and human rights. These popular demands for more power prompted Convention representatives to propose a few articles that could help bypass the gridlock in Congress, such as mechanisms for direct popular initiatives, plebiscites, and recall elections.

"Democratic" vs "rule by decree".  Vergara the "theorist"

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