Chile: Presidential Elections 2017 - What's in it for the People?

By Sergio Reyes (*)

On November 17, 2017, Chile will hold its 7th presidential election since the civilian-military dictatorship of Pinochet gave way to capitalist democracy in 1989. The capitalist democratic system left behind by Pinochet is tightly controlled by the superstructure of the system (constitution, congress -with designated senators and all, armed forces, courts, media, etc.). The first two elected presidents were members of the Christian Democratic Party, Patricio Aylwin and Eduardo Frei, Jr. They were followed by two Socialist Party member, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet. The fifth president was a member of a right-wing party, National Renewal, Sebastian Pinera. Finally, in 2013 Michele Bachelet was reelected.

All these administrations have done their job, to administer the system inherited from the dictatorship. In essence, the capitalist economic system established during Pinochet’s regime (1973-1989) has remained untouched. In fairness to center-left government, they have introduced some important reforms, in particular in the area of education and others, but that is the matter of a different article.

Chileans will participate without enthusiasm on these elections, for sure. The Chilean people have a sense that all politicians are pretty much the same. They believe they are either corrupt or corruptible and only look out for their own interests.

There are 8 candidates in all. The New Majority block is running divided, with Ms. Carolina Goic for the Christian Democrats, on one side, and Alejandro Guillier with the support of a coalition, which includes the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. Then there are other candidates with different degrees of left leaning politics: Alejandro Navarro, PAIS party; Beatriz Sanchez, for the Frente Amplio (a young leftist force gaining support throughout the country, albeit critical of communism). Finally, on the left, there is a candidate running on a classic communist ticket, Eduardo Artes, for the Patriotic Union. Artes is the leader of the Communist Party - Proletarian Action organization. Marco Enriquez-Ominami (son of legendary MIR leader Miguel Enriquez), is running on a center-right platform for his Progressive Party.

The right-wing is represented by former president Sebastian Pinera, from National Renewal supported by the coalition “Chile Vamos” (Let’s go Chile), seeking reelection. He is showing as the front-runner on the polls. A second right-wing candidate is Jose Kast, running as an independent and appealing to the most conservative forces of the country, surely inspired by Trump’s success in the U.S.

The candidates’ proposals:

1. Beatriz Sanchez, Frente Amplio. The Front has developed an extensive and detailed proposal, based on reports by working groups, by areas of interest. As a result of this consultation process, this was named as the “Program of Many” by the Front. Given the length of the proposal, we can only point to some of them. Sanchez proposes to re-write the Constitution via a constitutional assembly elected by the people. She also proposed to implement a new “model” of economic development, basically based on companies that are environmentally conscious. Sanchez also proposes a more active and larger participation of the state in creating infrastructure for the economy, which includes the nationalization of water, eliminating private ownership of this central to life asset. An element that will become rather common to all candidates, is also included in her program, improving transportation means and infrastructure. She will tackle the issue of private social security by ending the companies that today administer for profit retirement funds for all workers (AFP). Their program also addresses the issues of education and health care, defining them as rights. Sanchez includes progressive measure in the areas of migrations, feminism, sexual and gender diversity, technology, sports, and the rights of native peoples and African descendants. Their program includes changes to the tax structure and fiscal spending based on social concerns, and concentrating a larger share of taxation on companies and individuals with larger income. Finally, Sanchez proposes to reform the structure and financing of the armed forces, eliminating their exclusive allocation from income generated by copper sales. They will introduce changes to the current privilege-based command structure, making it more democratic and open.

2. Alejandro Guillier, SP, CP, others. Their program advocates for a “new economy”. This, however, like it is true for most candidates, doesn’t mean changing the capitalist root, but rather introducing reforms to it. In this case, making better use of technology and knowledge and reducing the “concentration” of activities and increasing production diversity, which we can only assume means attacking monopolies, although that language is not used. Guillier emphasizes social services for families, including expanding the recent changes in education and moving towards free education for all. They also propose improving health care, by expanding the service infrastructure for public health. Likewise, their plan addresses building more public housing, with the goal to eliminate shanty towns in Chile. Increasing the availability of jobs for all with fair wages, is another one of their goals. Guillier also addresses the issue of transportation, in particular in the capital, Santiago. They also include a progressive gender diversity set of proposals. Public safety is also addressed on this program. Guillier’s program is also critical of the private pension system (AFP) and introduces a series of reform to the system, without indicating if they would replace it, but rather reinforce the state pension system, which already exists. Finally, Guillier builds on a subject that is as old as the country itself, decentralizing the decision making process, which is concentrated in the capital, and giving regions more resources and power to make their own decisions, given the variety of needs each region has.

3. Carolina Goic. Christian Democracy Party. The title of her program is “Let’s trust again”. This addresses the population perception that no politician can be trusted anymore. Goic addressed the need to reach a constitutional pact to change the current constitution. She also addresses the issue of power centralization and giving regions more say. She dedicates an entire section to transparency, honesty and combating corruption so people can trust politicians again. In terms of defense, her program aims to align Chilean armed forces within the security scheme of the United Nations. The program addresses the Mapuche conflict including a constitutional clause that declares the Chilean state as pluriethnic and ensuring representation of the native peoples in the National Congress. On the economic front, she proposes increasing productivity and encouraging investments through tax incentives and further intervention of the state in funding public works and infrastructure. She also proposes the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology, to support economic activity and development. Sustainable development is what they promote, with concern for environment. Her program declares health as a fundamental human rights to be promoted and defended. On education, she advocates for a mixed system, public and private. Therefore, their goal is to improve the quality of education. She proposes a modern and sustainable transportation system, promoting public transportation and discouraging the use of private vehicles. On sexual diversity, she proposes to participate actively in Congress to legislate on a law for egalitarian marriage. She acknowledges the need to reform the pension system, but stops short of proposing to eliminate the current private system. Finally, she also addresses the immigration system and proposes a new immigration law, based upon respect for human rights, economic development, sovereignty and safety.

4. Alejandro Navarro, PAIS. For Navarro, writing a new constitution is his central proposal, and the program goes into some detail about how they conceive the new political order, including the creation of a prime minister position. In this context, they address the issue of regional and communal autonomy, as opposed to current centralized form of government. They propose to “reactivate” the economy through a program of public investment in productive and social infrastructure. Their program proposes to increase taxes to corporations and high income earners. Navarro’s program also speaks about creating a new economic model based on sustainability, with emphasis on technology and environmental concerns. It further goes into specifics indicating that they will increase mining of lithium by creating the National Lithium Corporation controlled by the state. Navarro will end the current privatization of water and make it accessible to all. Navarro proposes a national health system including the creation of state owned pharmacies. In the area of education, Navarro proposes what he calls a true educational reform, without copayments, moving toward a totally free educational system. Part of his education plan includes, as a goal, universal, free university education by 2020. This program also proposes the elimination of the current private pension system to be replaced by a social security system run by the state. On labor, Navarro proposes to shorten the work week from 44 hours to 40 hours and a series of reforms that would benefit workers. On transportation, the program includes subsidies for regions and replacing the current Trans-Santiago system. To combat crime, Navarro proposes forms of community policing, modernization of the police force and community mediation programs. On gender diversity it advocates gender equality and equity. Given Chile’s history of natural disasters, Navarro proposes to create a Ministry of Risk Management for Disasters and Emergencies, emphasizing prevention. He also proposes providing more resources and widening the reach of the recently create Ministry for the Arts, Culture and Patrimony. The program includes an entire section on the rights of indigenous people, starting by recognizing that Chile is a pluri-national country, and promoting indigenous autonomy in their territories. On their foreign relations plan, Navarro includes working to find a solution to the Palestinian State conflict by recognizing its right to exist.

5. Marco Enriquez-Ominami. Progressive Party. His program starts from the premise that the candidate believes in a strong capitalist market, with state regulations, and prosperity for all. His first priority will be economic growth. In this area, he also proposes a tax reform, seeking to tax more heavily individual and business with higher income. The state will invest in infrastructure works, including building 20 new hospitals throughout the country. The state will subcontract with private construction companies. Navarro will create a Ministry of Science and Technology. Define internet services as a basic service and regulate it as such. To attack the problem of crime, Enriquez proposes community programs of crime prevention and not just enforcement, and the creation of a municipal Office of Mediation. He also proposes to reform the current pension system into a mixed public-private system. Enriquez is critical of the concept of education as a commodity, yet stops short of proposing eliminating state subsidies for private schools and universities. Rather, he proposes a series of reforms to that system. On energy, the candidate discourages state investment on high emission of pollutants and encourages renewable and clean energy. His plan also addresses the issue of water, yet, he doesn’t advocate nationalization. Instead he wants to strengthen the role of the state on water distribution via buying from private sources if needed. He clearly indicates that he will not expropriate these resources now held in private hands. Enriquez also advocates strengthening the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Patrimony. On health, Enriquez indicates that this should be a universal right and be guaranteed by a new constitution. They also want to create a state owned and run national pharmacy system eliminating pricing speculation for medicine. On the indigenous rights front, Enriquez would include in the new constitution the concept that Chile is multicultural, that indigenous nations ancestral territories must be respected, and stop using the antiterrorist law to deal with the current conflict. Like others, Enriquez also proposes solutions to the issue of government centralization, appealing to provide more resources and decision making to regions.

6. Eduardo Artes, Patriotic Union. Artes indicates that the first action of his government would be the call for the formation of constitutional assembly. Central to his program is the nationalization of ALL natural resources, including water, gas, copper, lithium, forests, sea and fishing. The state will develop a process of industrialization, such that we can process our own resources. The banking system and the capital market financial institutions will be also controlled and owned by the state, repatriating all funds that corporations and individual keep abroad to benefit social and economic conditions for working people in Chile. For the armed forces, Artes proposes to change the command selection of officers, opening it to all social classes, while at the same time, incorporating the work of armed forces personnel at the community level, to produce the concept that armed forces are part of the people, and therefore, making it less likely that soldiers will turn against the people. Health and education will be free for all and managed by the state. Housing will also be assumed by the state, and it will aim to eliminate substandard housing for the working class. On the pension system, Artes proposes to eliminate the private pension insurers (AFP), and replace it with a state social security system, with workers participation in its administration, with funding contributions by the employer, employee and the state. The program also considers the issues of recreation, sports and the environment. Their economic plan includes developing an industrialization of new type, based on quality of life of the communities and being respectful of environmental impact. On public safety, Artes proposes the use of detention centers (prisons and jails) only during the legal process. After sentencing is dictated, prisoners will be confined to Centers of Reeducational Labor. Transportation and telecommunications will also see development under this program, by building a national train system. Finally, Artes’ program recognize the existence of different indigenous nations and defines the country as a pluri-national.

7. Sebastian Pinera, Chile Vamos. Pinera built his program around 5 priorities. Because it is a good summary of his program, I will just include them here: 1) Make the economy grow again, create jobs and improve salaries. (Amazingly for a capitalist, Pinera says in his program that “there isn’t a better development policy than growth, nor a better social and labor policy than full employment.) 2) Make Chile a safer country, setting back delinquency, narco trafficking and terrorism, supporting and modernizing our police forces. 3) To improve the quality of education for our children, youth and workers, to confront the challenges of information and education, strengthening freedom of teaching and giving parent back their right to choose and participate in the education of their children. 4) To overcome the health crisis in Chile, improving quality of service and infrastructure, graduating or bringing in more specialist doctors, ending with waiting lists for medical attention and procedures, reducing the price of medicine and promoting a culture of healthy life. 5) Improve retirement pensions and integration and quality of life of our elders through a reform to the pension system and a national policy of positive aging. His program also includes mention of ending government centralization and giving more power to regions. His taxing system will aim to encourage growth and will be pro investment, entrepreneurship and innovation. On health, he proposes the creation of an Electronic Single Medical Record, on a country where manual files are kept in hospitals and clinics. He proposes the elimination of shanty towns by the year 2026. Pinera’s plan also includes reviewing the presidential period, which is currently 4 year (seemingly to increase it to 6, although it is not written on his program) and to reduce the size of Congress to 120 deputies and 40 senators. Like others, he proposes a new urban transportation system for Chile, which he calls “Third Millennium”, ending the current Trans-Santiago system within 8 years.

8. Jose Kast. Right-wing independent. We have to start from the premise that for Mr. Kast, Sebastian Pinera, is not right-wing enough. His plan includes to increase security and recover the state of law and order. He addresses by name the Mapuche conflict as acts of terrorism and calls on to increase resources for order and security forces in Chile. He goes on to propose the declaration of a state of emergency in the conflict area and sending the armed forces to exercise control of the situation. In fact, he promises that when he is inaugurated on March 11, 2018, he will immediately declare state of emergency in the Araucania Region. He proposes a salary increase of 7% for police and prison guards, and an improved health system for armed forces members. Kast also proposes the creation of a National Security Committee instead of the Political Committee that now advises the president weekly at The Moneda. He also addresses ending the political transition and ending human rights lawsuits. He promises to apply a presidential pardon to all militaries currently serving sentences for violation of human rights under Pinochet. Kast also proposes to review Chilean gun laws to extend permits for using guns for personal defense. He is also proposing to build border walls in the North of Chile, at the border with Peru for an extension of 170 kilometers (105 miles). On foreign relations, he will end diplomatic relations with Cuba and Venezuela. Naturally, Kast proposes to increase the size of the military budget. On immigration, he want to increase security and control of people entering the country, saying in passing that many foreigners have entered the country to support terrorist activities in the Araucania. His economic agenda seeks less state regulations and lower taxes for corporations. For every new regulation, says Kast, and where have he heard this before, two others must be eliminated. On energy, Kast favor nuclear fusion energy plants, which he hopes to complete by the year 2100.


At this point, the reader who painfully read through all these notes on the candidates proposals, event though they only partially represent their programs, probably knows much more about the candidates than most Chileans. There are many common goals for the majority of the candidates such as the matter of reforming the private pension system, or improving and/or replacing a public (private really) transit system such as the one in Santiago. Another element that is hard to take seriously beyond being an election promise, is the elimination of government centralism and giving more resources and power to regions. This, I have heard since I was a child, and not much has happened about it since. The main common denominator here is that all candidates will play by the rules of the capitalist system, either with reforms or, for the right-wing ones, by making it stronger. The exception is candidate Artes, who is proposing a program of nationalizations as sweeping as what Salvador Allende proposed, started carrying out back in 1970, and ended with the civilian-military coup de etat of September 11, 1973. We also see that we have a mini-Trump-like candidate here, Mr. Kast. Whatever happens, it is unlikely that the majority candidate will have the required 50% + 1 percentage required to be elected and there will be a second round on December 17, 2017, which will only include the first two vote getters. Stay tuned!

(* ) Sergio Reyes is a former political prisoner under the civilian-military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Lived in the U.S. for 41 years since 1976 and has now returned to his country of origin. This will be the first ever election in Chile he will be able to cast his vote. (www.sreyes.org)


From top, left to right: Artes, Guillier, Goic, Pinera. Second row: Navarro, Sanchez, Enriquez-Ominami and Kast.