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.