Accurate and intelligent analyzes have been published in this newspaper in recent days regarding the election of Gabriel Boric as president of Chile. I refer to them. Beyond the analysis, the headlines, that is, the condensed news that is repeated, is one and direct: a young man from the left beat the candidate of the extreme right, José Antonio Kast. What about that in terms of its significance in the region?
I dare to synthesize in three reflections what Boric’s triumph means and fundamental questions that are posed throughout the Latin American region regarding possible fundamental trends.
First, what does it mean today for a candidate “from the left” to triumph in a presidential election? It is clear today in the region that, if it ever was, today it is not synonymous with or a prelude to expropriations, dispossessions or confiscations. Other are the key components and respond to social and popular claims different from those that could have existed before. It is true that a few decades ago one of the programmatic concretions of the ruling left had to do with expropriations; particularly in areas such as agrarian reform or large-scale mining.
Today, the pattern that sets the street in societies whose economies have grown – and, along with them, the middle class – is that of change for inclusion. For example, the social protests that heated the atmosphere to generate the constitutional convention in Chile and then for Boric’s triumph, have to do with a better distribution of the economic and power “cake”. Translated this, essentially, into better health services, education, citizen security, gender approach, rights of indigenous peoples, etc.
A different distribution of “the cake”, then, and an inclusive and participatory exercise of public power. This points to very concrete and tangible aspects of the distribution of national income such as the tax system, business contributions for the pension system or current expenses for the preservation of the environment in mining, oil or forestry investments. And to a participatory exercise of democracy that is neither exhausted nor reduced in the periodic elections established in representative democracy.
Second, a candidate from the extreme right who had displaced more moderate right-wing options in the first round was defeated. Kast is, indeed, extreme and carried in the electoral campaign (especially in the first round) theses similar -or even more radical- to other currents in the region (Bolsonaro) or in Europe (Éric Zemmour in France or Vox in Spain). Withdraw from the United Nations or build ditches on the border for immigrants to pass through as proposed, for example, by Kast.
However, what could have pointed to a greater polarization, curiously generated for the second electoral round a look towards the center by the two finalists. The desire for change and the overwhelming force of young people won, true, but also a more reasonable space for discussion and political confrontation …
For Kast not only softened his message in the second round – trying to acquire a less sectarian and more global representation – but he also recognized with correction, promptness and precision the triumph of his contender within the first minutes of the 52% election results known on Sunday. 19 in the afternoon.
As it should be. Which is how it happened, too, in Honduras with the electoral victory less than a month ago for the leftist Xiomara Castro, quickly and transparently recognized by her contender, the mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry Asfura. In Ecuador, the programmatic opposition between Guillermo Lasso and the salient was not in the background, but the results of April were not a matter of major questioning by those who lost in the election with whom there were important programmatic differences.
Good Latin American signals, in general. Only clouded by the confrontational behavior of the Peruvian extreme right-wing, distant from reality and the objective verification of it, alleging a non-existent electoral fraud and fighting for the dismissal of Pedro Castillo from before, even, that he assumes functions at the end of July. That this democratic misconduct is the regional exception and not the rule, undoubtedly encourages.
Third, the challenges of living in constitutional democracies without a majority in congress. Which involves, among other things, building political dynamics that allow democratically elected governments, but without a parliamentary majority, not only to function (“survive”), but also to apply the essentials of the program with which they were elected. This is not easy and requires a lot of capacity to handle itself in democratic institutions.
Apart from the case of Pedro Castillo in Peru –once-, where the pattern is set by a basically obstructing parliamentary majority (which feeds back on the mistakes that have been made by the government), electoral results such as those of Honduras and Chile suggest great and enormous challenges. That although they do not call for the reinvention of gunpowder – since an executive without a majority in the legislature is not unprecedented – they do raise the need for an exercise of public function consistent with the challenges of the moment that strengthens and does not weaken governance.
Faced with societies that have already lost patience, there is a political and ethical obligation to aim for agreement and make decisions seeking agreement. But picking up, by the way, the message of change left by the electorate and not just managing the day to day without changing anything. There are, perhaps, reasons to be optimistic if we stick to what was said by the losing candidates after the electoral results in countries like Honduras and Chile. Hopefully it is an indicator of behaviors consistent with what has been said and that similar behavior spreads throughout the region.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.