Monday, 29 October 2012

The Day After

Last night's municipal elections were unusually interesting. First, they took place in the context of social unrest and mobilization. Second, polls aside, they were a real test of the government's popularity. Third, they were the first elections to take place under a new system of automatic registration and voluntary voting.

I wrote this piece as I was being flooded with data and ideas, from the TV, from Twitter, from emails from and to friends. It is still hard to take it all in, and the piece reflects that piecemeal attempt at digesting the magnitude of the results. In a nutshell, no one expected the government and its candidates to receive quite the slapping it got. We always suspected that the Concertación would do OK, but winning Santiago was a real - dare I say it? - coup.

Much of the media attention is centred on the low participation rates. I think that a) the rates are actually higher than the 40% being quoted, probably closer to 45, which is, in comparative terms, not unusual. Second, in many parts of the world municipal elections get less attention and participation than national elections. I don't know how to make my compatriots stop panicking.

Also noteworthy was the defeat of the mayor of the wealthy suburb of Providencia. Cristian Labbé is a former army colonel, close to Pinochet, whose style and politics closely resemble those of his mentor. He had been mayor of Providencia since 1996. Labbé's authoritarianism inspired a public movement, spearheaded by neighbourhood groups, not political parties. Primaries were held. Debates were organized to which Labbé - who called his opponent 'a housewife' - did not show up. His defeat is symbolic of how politics should be done in the new Chile, to get rid of the old Chile.

In the suburb of Ñuñoa, in a result no one expected, Salvador Allende's granddaughter defeated another old-style politician. That result, and Carolina Toha's success in Santiago, made me think last night of just how much the weight of history is still present in Chile. An Allende and a Toha. Is this the new politics or the old? Will young people be inspired by the possibilities of change offered by democracy, or be lured to the streets to keep marching? Will the parties learn the lessons necessary to attract the voluntary votes of the millions of new voters, or keep playing by the old rules?

Too many questions for the day after.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Start up - Shut down

In this post a couple of days ago I tried to be magnanimous, pointing out that for the first time in a long time an international media outlet actually decided to give Piñera some good press. But I didn't catch the small print, which apparently appeared in the print edition of the Economist, which highlights some of the problems that some have had with the Start Up Chile programme.

I also have a sinking feeling that this Sunday's municipal elections, which will be the first ones featuring the new automatic voter registration system, will lend itself to another round of critical reviews. Hope not.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Timelapse tour of Chile

As my friend Adam likes to say, Chile is a long, thin country. Here's proof.

Chilean goofballs

Startup Chile

Regular readers will know that I get frustrated with the bad press that Chile gets in the international press, not because I think we don't deserve it, but because we do. It wasn't so long ago that Chile was the darling of the international media, either because of its stable economy, its democratic transition, its impressive leaders. Today the international media is more likely to underscore mass demonstrations against government policy or government fiddling with official statistics à la Kirchner.

However, there are glimmers of hope, as this Economist piece highlights. The government has spent $40 millon on 1000 new firms, attracting bright young things, mostly American, to Santiago. It's a good program, but I fear that for those who do not qualify for the programme, the average Chilean wanting to start a new business still has to deal with outdated bureaucracy, labour laws and bankruptcy rules.

Oops, there I go criticizing again.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The most boring earthquake in the world

We just had a fairly major tremor, measuring 5.7 on the Richeter scale. It felt strong, and this video shows just how dramatic the whole thing was:

The paradox of tolerance

One of the many characteristics of the various social movements that have emerged in Chile is that they call for more and better democracy, yet there is little consensus on what this actually means. I suspect that many emerging groups, from youth to environmental groups, have pretty deep misconceptions of democracy. As a result, it has become fashionable to 'take' public buildings as a form of protest. This basically involves invading public space, sometimes not allowing work to continue. The University of Chile's emblematic building was thus occupied for many months last year and for a short period this year. It was damaged from within and covered with graffiti from without.

Another form of protest is the 'funa' which may be a boycott or a form of public shaming. One student activist, counterintuitively thinking it would bolster Chilean democracy, called for a 'funa' of the upcoming municipal elections.

Funas were used in the past to protest the presence of human rights abusers, but more often than not is now used to impede academic or political discourse, and can sometimes turn violent. This was the case last week when a professor was hit in the face with a bottle filled with paint, suffering possibly permanent damage to the eye.

All this reminded me of Popper's Paradox of Tolerance, which I reflect upon here.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Why Obama wasn't great

I find myself writing more on the US than on Chile recently. The elections are beginning to attract interest in Chile, which has led to quite a bit of media work for me, and to me thinking about what is going on in the US. For economies of scale, then, I end up writing on the US elections.

Here is something I wrote last week, after the debates. Some of the post-debate spin from the White House seems to confirm what I suspected. Obama didn't want to seem aggressive, wanted to look presidential, and was playing it safe. Strangely, playing it safe was the unsafest move of them all.

Friday, 5 October 2012

24 years

Today is the 24th anniversary of the plebiscite which ended the Pinochet regime. A reminder of how it was won: