The upcoming elections in Chilean politics will determine who will reach La Moneda, who will be the new senators and deputies of the Republic, as well as the hundreds of regional councillors whose election was pending after the recent elections of governors, mayors, councillors and others. At the same time, the 155 members of the Constitutional Convention were also determined.
We must be one of the countries with the most representatives of the “people” in relation to the size of our population of just under 20 million. Likewise, few citizens in the world must show as much interest in becoming political authorities, a concern which in other states is confined to political parties, which are otherwise never as numerous as here, where one can easily count more than thirty groupings of right, centre and left, if they can all be categorised in this way.
In the last few days, all the primaries, citizens’ consultations and summit meetings resulted in nine presidential candidates and thousands of candidates for the National Congress, in a whole onerous task that was labelled a “celebration of democracy”, but which in total did not involve more than three or four million people out of the 12 or 13 who were summoned. In this sense, the epiphany concentrated on those interested in winning an electoral seat, as well as on special television programmes, but failed to interest the vast majority of Chileans stressed by unemployment, poorly paid work, the pandemic and the dangers of a daily life in which organised crime, narco-crime and increasingly virulent social tensions in Araucanía and other parts of the country are rife.
In addition to the above, and this also serves as an explanation, it must be added that the Chilean state rewards very well those who reach La Moneda, the Legislative Branch, municipalities, embassies and that set of state institutions and companies that have political administrators who do not necessarily derive from their merits. Although it is fair to clarify that in recent years laws and practices have been implemented to ensure that senior positions in the so-called bureaucracy are defined by competitive examinations and more serious and formal procedures. However, as we are in Chile, we know that with the law, traps have arisen to violate what has been agreed.
Being a member of parliament, a councillor, an ambassador or a member of the executive staff and the boards of Banco del Estado, Codelco and other organisations is an enormous benefit for those who, in addition, often retain their positions for four, eight or more years. As has been proven several times, a parliamentarian or a minister in Chile can earn more than a colleague in the United States, Germany and the richest and most powerful countries on Earth, but in addition to their salary, we know that the possession of high positions makes it easier for their holders to take advantage of coveted business opportunities, if not to access those bribes that big business provides to co-govern with the Executive, the Parliament and influence judicial decisions. The remuneration of high-level government officials exceeds at least five times the average income of Chilean workers, and even more when it comes to the minimum wage. A gap that does not exist, of course, in serious democracies and perhaps even in the world’s dictatorships.
It is another matter to be part of the uniformed leadership, where embezzlement of public funds, overpayments and pension and health privileges, for example, are the bread and butter of the day. It is enough to add up how many members of the military, senior police officers and others are currently under indictment for tax fraud and other corrupt practices in a sinister reality that also involves and integrates many civilians who have a direct relationship with our armed forces, a relationship that is very pleasant for many politicians. No one dares to say that Chile is an honest country compared to others in Latin America and the world. The years are certainly long gone when there were rulers who abandoned the government palace in poverty, renounced their parliamentary allowance and proved themselves unbribable in relation to public proposals and the contracting of companies in charge of developing infrastructure works or popular housing. It has been demonstrated that building a hospital or a school is much more expensive in Chile than in many other countries on Earth. When they do not culminate in bridges, housing estates, roads, railways and others that collapse in a very short time because of the lack of probity of national and foreign builders always on the lookout for the public treasury.
At all social levels, there is anxiety to attain public office. Even now there is no shortage of big businessmen like Sebastián Piñera expressing their interest in a ministry or legislative seat. This is demonstrated by the enormous number of candidates, among whom quite a few are changing parties or have created new ones in order to get a place on the ballot. It is precisely among the presidential candidates themselves that such mutability can be discovered, which can also be explained by the ideological consistency and lack of a historical project of the collectivities. We even have candidates with no programme whatsoever and others who even offer money and trips if they are elected. Not to mention those who were left “hanging by the thread”, as the saying goes, when they decided to join certain referents who used them and then got rid of them. It is known that two former presidential candidates who sought a new political domicile to extend their electoral aspirations have been orphaned.
It is illusory to think that with so many candidates, voter turnout will increase substantially, unless compulsory suffrage is re-established. The very high abstention rates in a country that in the past could even boast of the great civic spirit of its population will surely be maintained or vary very discreetly. Because today there are few exceptions of leaders who have a genuine vocation for public service. In addition, the shameless dispersion of the sectors that define themselves as leftists or progressives is very likely to favour the continuity of the right-wing in government.