Chile is a country located in the region of South America. Sebastián Piñera returned in March 2018 as head of state and government in Chile, after four years in opposition. Piñera and the right block thus took over for the second time in a row after Michelet Bachelet and the left block. In the fall of 2019, mass protests erupted that half-paralyzed the country and then came the corona pandemic in spring 2020.
The wave of protests that erupted in October 2019 sustained Chile in the most serious crisis of decades. The sparking spark was an increase in fares in Santiago’s subway. A few days of protests turned into extensive and violent demonstrations, where 41 metro stations were set on fire and other buildings were set on fire. President Piñera announced a state of emergency and deployed the military to patrol the capital’s streets, but protests continued and grew in strength.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Chile, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
The main explanation for the protests is that a burgeoning dissatisfaction over the large gaps in society boiled over. The protesters demanded both social and economic justice. One percent of the population owns 33 percent of the assets, making Chile the most unequal in the OECD. The president himself is one of the country’s richest people, with a private fortune estimated at $ 2.8 billion.
At the same time, Chile is usually highlighted as perhaps Latin America’s most prosperous and stable country, and few predicted such an extensive wave of protest so suddenly. The security forces have been criticized for taking a hard stand against the protesters. After 50 days of protests, 26 people were killed in the riots and more than 12,000 were injured, according to the regional organization OAS.
A key requirement of the protesters was a new constitution, which will replace the existing one from 1980. Congress has also voted to organize a referendum on the issue (see Calendar). But when the corona pandemic broke out, voting on the future was postponed (see Calendar).
At the same time, in March 2020, the authorities selectively introduced quarantine rules in areas where the virus was clearly present. But many people continued to go to work, not least the poorer part of the population who saw no alternative. In mid-May, a sharp rise in virus spread was noted and extensive restrictions were introduced mainly in the metropolitan area. A month later, half the population lived under strict quarantine rules, but the spread of the infection continued.
A background to the wave of protest is the existing constitution that laid the foundation for an economic policy in which pensions, healthcare and education have been privatized. The critics believe that it has created a system where the gaps grow and where wealth is created only a minor part of the population will benefit.
The widespread protests made Piñera try to pour oil on the waves as well by promising increased minimum levels of wages and pensions as well as other social reforms. He furnished his government and invited the opposition to talks. The seriousness of the situation became clear when, after almost two weeks of protests, the government made the drastic decision to withdraw its host for the UN Climate Conference, COP 25, which was to be held in Santiago in December. An Apec meeting in November has also been canceled.
In the presidential elections held in November and December 2017, Michelle Bachelet was prevented from complying with the Constitution (see Political system). Piñera was long considered a favorite before the election, but after the first round the victory did not appear as given. Just over 20 percent of the votes then went unexpectedly to Beatriz Sánchez, a candidate to the left of Alejandro Guillier who was a candidate for the dominant left-wing New Majority (see Calendar). The low turnout in the second round – 48.5 percent – is believed to have benefited Piñera, who won 55 percent of the vote over Guillier.
The right wing Chile Vamos also won a majority of the votes in Congress, which means that Piñera can run his politics without too much resistance. Piñera went to election with promises of new tax cuts to accelerate growth.
When Bachelet took office for her second term in the spring of 2014, she started at a high pace, after criticism that she did not get much done during her first (2006-2010, see Modern History). The aim was to build a modern welfare state, “from the cradle to the grave”. Among several initiatives launched during the first 100 days there was a pension reform, specifically aimed at self-employed and low-income earners.
Work on fulfilling election promises to ban profit withdrawals in schools and free college education for all was also started. Similarly, a promised tax reform was adopted, which aimed to increase the state’s annual revenue by the equivalent of 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The increased revenue would fund improvements in both healthcare and school.
Despite legislative changes intended to lead to a gradual transition to free college education, student protests continued (see Modern History). At the end of 2015, a setback came when the Constitutional Court rejected parts of educational reform. The government was forced to admit that free education will not become a reality during the current term of office. In May 2016, students attempted to storm the presidential palace in Santiago and in Valparaíso, the unrest led to the death of one person. During the summer, the government presented further proposals for legislative changes, but the students remained dissatisfied.
Bachelor’s popularity figures plummeted rapidly after taking office and after a couple of years, only about a fifth of voters thought she was doing a good job. Several political scandals contributed to the public outcry. These included revelations that, primarily, the opposition party UDI but also a former member of the Bachelens government received illegal campaign contributions from a bank prior to the 2013 elections. senator was sentenced to prison. However, the drop for Bachelet was a separate scandal, in which her son was accused of abusing his influence to arrange a large bank loan for a company owned by his wife. The president’s wife’s wife was later indicted for tax evasion. The scandals also included more members of Congress,
Voters were also disappointed that election promises were not fulfilled and over the increasingly sluggish economy. Huge protests were held in 2016 in support of radical changes in the pension system, an area where many believe reform work is going too slowly.
In the municipal elections in autumn 2016, the left Alliance New majority suffered a stinging defeat, which was seen as a hint of how the political winds blew for the ruling party ahead of the autumn 2017 elections.
Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.
READING TIP – read more about Chile in UI’s web magazine Foreign
magazine: Quarantine rules strike hard on Latin America’s poor (2020-03-27) Protest movement in Chile gathers new energy (2019-12-17)
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Chile / Republic of Chile
republic, unitary state
Head of State and Government
President Sebastián Piñera (2018–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
National Renewal (RN) 36/6, Independent Democratic Union (UDI) 31/4, Socialist Party (PS) 19/3, Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 13/3, Democratic Party (PPD) 8/4, Democratic Revolution (RD) 10/1, Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD) 8/0, Chile’s Communist Party (PC) 8/0, others 22/2 (2017) 1
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Independent Democratic Union (UDI) 29/8, Christian Democratic Party (PDC) 21/6, National Renewal (RN) 19/8, Democratic Party (PPD) 15/6, Socialist Party (PS) 15/6, Radical Social Democratic Party (UDI) PRSD) 6/0, Chile Communist Party (PCCH) 6/0, Broad Social Movement (Mas) 0/1, Independent 9/3 (2013) 2
47% in the congressional election and the 1st round of the 2017 presidential election, 48.5% in the second round of the 2017 presidential election
presidential and congressional elections 2021
1.refers to all mandates in the Chamber of Deputies and about half in the Senate where the term of office is eight years
2. see above