Saturday, 25 June 2011

Normality, according to the Economist

The Economist thinks Chile is becoming a normal country.

They miss the point entirely.


Something is happening. The Arab Spring, the Spanish 'indignados', and now Chile.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest against various proposed power generation projects and in favour of a better public education system. As Chile since 1990 has had a fairly weak civil society, the sight of so many people on the street is quite amazing. The demonstrations are mostly peaceful, although often they end in some isolated incidents, arrests and tear gas.... which is what tends to get more media coverage.

One of the most creative protests in favour of a dying educational system was last night's Thriller flash mob.

Today, a mass protest, originally aimed a pushing for gay marriage, will likely end up being a wholesale inclusion-fest, pushing for rights and accountability on the environment, education and who knows what else.

The bottom line, of course, is that all this is happening because neither the government nor the opposition have shown much interest in responding, nor do they seem to know how to respond. If this doesn't change, in the medium term we'll continue to see street protests, hopefully all as peaceful, creative and high sprited as the one in this video. In the long term, however, we could be sowing the seeds for some sort of extra-systemic political force or candidate. That could be thrilling, or just scary.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Latest polls.... the Toledization of Chile

Last week's publication of May's Adimark poll shows that the Piñera government is in the doldrums. This led to frenzied speculation that a cabinet shuffle was in the works, even though the president himself was travelling in Europe. The UDI was (is) particularly eager to remove Interior Minister Hinzpeter, whom many blame for the lack of political dexterity the government has exhibited in recent months. RN, for their part, are anxious to remove Ena von Baer. But Piñera returned to Chile on Sunday and announced there would be no reshuffle.

Two observations can be made. On the one hand, Piñera clearly sees cabinet changes as signs of weakness, rather than political responsiveness or accountability. Since coming to power, he has only removed people (Ossandon, van Rysselberghe, etc) when their position becomes absolutely untenable or when they show clear insubordination. That is not the case with von Baer or Hinzpeter (in fact, quite the opposite).

Second, as I observed in this column in El Dínamo, we are entering a period where high growth rates and a generally good economic situation is not being reflected in poll numbers. This is troubling, and in the column I make the connection with Toledo's Peru. The disconnect between economic performance and political popularity tends to create space for extra-systemic actors; populists, caudillos, Ollana Humalas, etc.