A new Chile in the making and the rise of the non-traditional left

Chileans celebrated the constitutional referendum on the 25th of October 2020. Photo by Laura Gonzalez Marquez

As a result of the uprising, Chileans voted on the 15th and 16th of May 2021 for a 155-seat constitutional assembly to forge a new constitution, along with electing governors, mayors and councillors across the country – with dramatic outcomes.

Six weeks into the now historic Chilean 2019/20 uprising, we expressed the rather daring words that ‘’something very different is happening’’ and that ‘’the collective consciousness of the nation has undergone a seismic shift’’. The same article asserted that ‘’running through everything is a deep groundswell – a groundswell of history in the making’’.

A very long and tumultuous year later, the groundswell has become a tidal wave, much to the surprise of many and exceeding all expectations! As it transpired, nothing could stop this groundswell, not Covid, not the lockdowns and not even the strenuous resistance and repression by the Piñera government and the broad right.

As a result of  the uprising, Chileans voted on the 15th and 16th of May 2021 for a 155-seat constitutional assembly to forge a new constitution, along with electing governors, mayors and councillors across the country – with dramatic outcomes.

A political earthquake

The now often-used description of the electoral outcomes as a ‘political earthquake’ is apt. It constituted a fundamental rejection of the political and business elite, along with other mainstream organisations. It was also a decisive vote against the neoliberal policies and practices triggered by the Pinochet regime fifty years ago.   

Importantly, the right-wing coalition fell far short of attaining the one third representation in the constitutional assembly, which would have enabled them to veto decisions. They only obtained 37 seats, or 23%, with candidates who were heavily funded by business.

The independents obtained 48 seats, constituting almost one third (31%). The leftist parties constituting a grouping, the Lista Apruebo Dignidad, which includes the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio, obtained 28 seats. The mainstream opposition parties grouped in the Lista del Apruebo obtained 25 seats. Indigenous peoples were reserved 17 seats. This means the two left coalitions, the independents and the Apruebo Dignidad, will dominate the assembly.  

This dramatic trend was also manifested in the elections for governors, mayors and councillors, changing the face of Chile virtually overnight! Many left leaning people have been elected into positions.

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Another important feature  is the fact that gender parity for the constitutional assembly was achieved by the feminist movement, a first in the world for this provision. As a result many more women than usual ran as candidates for the various positions.  

A significant number of representatives to the constitutional assembly have committed themselves to strive for a feminist constitution. In addition, indigenous peoples will now for the first time have a strong voice in writing the country’s new constitution.

A victory for the non-traditional left and anti-neoliberalism

This was a victory for the people that now make up the non-traditional left in Chile, along with the left-orientated political parties. This layer has a number of important characteristics that make this election profoundly important, not only for Chile, but more broadly.

Firstly, neoliberalism was the key issue focused on across the various groupings and parties, with anti-neoliberal perspectives being clearly expressed. In fact, the battle lines have been drawn around this issue. In addition, a strong feminist perspective prevails. This constituency is also generally young.  

It thus can be said that the election results were a victory for the feminist movement, for anti-neoliberalism and for the youth.

Candidates from this constituency also campaigned on issues and spoke a language that resonated with voters. They were respected for having a record of being on the streets interacting with people. Linked to this, people and in particular the youth, did not vote along traditional lines.   

Who are the non-traditional left?

What is termed the non-traditional left are the people who stood as independents in the elections, along with their supporters. They consist of a diversity of people from all walks of life who came together as activists in the uprising. An important layer within this grouping are the radical independents, who spear-headed this initiative.  

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Overall, the independents now hold positions engaged with a wide range of issues and concerns close to the realities of Chilean people and their common rejection of the neoliberal order.    

A victory as well for left parties out of the mainstream

Mainstream parties lost votes across the board, with two exceptions. Firstly, the Frente Amplio, a coalition of left-orientated parties coming from the student uprisings over the past decade, was well supported. Secondly, the Chilean Communist Party, which remained steadfastly independent from other parties in events leading up to last week.

In the view of the communist re-elected major of the Recoleta district in Santiago, Daniel Jadue: ‘’The dividing line among the various opposition parties runs along those which clearly reject the neoliberal model and those who support the model’’.  

Re-energising and re-imaging the left

As can be seen, this development has dramatically brought to centre stage a new left formation, constituting what has been termed the ’non-traditional left’ and some established political parties. Underpinning this left formation are a set of common political perspectives, as described above.

This stands to significantly energise and provide direction for the broad left in Chile, not forgetting the challenges ahead, while it will be the cause for much introspection for some. This includes the trade union movement, whose key representatives in the Unidad Social, a trade union / civil society coalition, were not elected.

A tectonic political shift has happened, with the ascendency of a new left vision. The main elements of this vision arguably differ from that of the more traditional left.                     

Finally, this development stands to have impact beyond Chilean borders, with learnings to be gleaned while the process unfolds. It hopefully will also inspire the masses of people and in particular women and youth, within Latin America and beyond.

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