Proposals to change the electoral system in Chile are again on the table, writes Mariano Montes (in Spanish). With the first post-dictatorship presidency from the center-right (who is currently very popular), the previous veto by the right may be overcome. The center-left Concertacion has never liked the current electoral system, which was originally designed to over under-represent them at the expense of the right.
The proposals would be to increase the size of each chamber, and simultaneously permit presidential reelection. These moves would require a constitutional amendment. With larger chambers, the district magnitudes would be increased, resulting in a more proportional system.
The current system actually is a proportional formula, continuing the pre-dictatorship system of open-list PR with D’Hondt allocation. What has made it mostly unrepresentative of political forces other than those grouped into the two big pre-electoral coalitions is that all districts currently have a magnitude of two. Rather awkwardly and imprecisely, this system has come to be known as the “binomial” system.
I am always somewhat amused by criticisms of the system that refer to its making possible districts in which one winning candidate has fewer votes than another who loses. Of course, this is precisely the sense in which it is not a “nominal” (or nomial?) system. Were it a nominal system, by definition, the two candidates with the most votes would be the winners in each district. Nominal systems are those in which votes are cast for candidates by name, rather than being first pooled by party or coalition affiliation. Nominal systems are top-M systems (where M is the district magnitude).
Chile’s system, by contrast, is a list system. That means the first criterion is the votes cast collectively for the candidates on each list. Then the open nature of the lists kicks in, where candidate vote totals matter. Rather than being a top-M system, at this stage it is a top-s system, where s is the number of seats each list has won. Obviously, when M=2, s can take only the values of 0, 1, or 2.
Given that it is D’Hondt, the list with the most votes will win two seats only if it doubles the vote total of the runner-up list. This is how all D’Hondt systems work, and D’Hondt is the most common of proportional allocation methods for list systems (open or closed). The difference is that most list-proportional systems that use D’Hondt have M>2 for most of their districts, and so the process continues beyond determining whether the largest list has more or less than twice the votes of the next list. But in any open-list system, it is always possible (in fact, typical) that some candidates who win seats are not in the top M. They merely must be in the top s of their own party’s or electoral coalition’s list.
It would make a lot of sense if Chile would revert to the pre-dictatorship system of larger districts, and thus greater proportionality. The current system over-represents the two largest list, but over-represents the one that is second in votes to a greater degree than the one with the most votes (because the second one often has many fewer votes in a district, but not only half as many). It also makes sense to expand the size of the chambers; Chile’s Chamber of Deputies is very under-sized, relative to its population (see the graph at a planting from more than five years ago on reapportionment in the USA).
Maybe Chile will finally have a more proportional electoral system. But, please, let’s not call the resulting system with its higher magnitudes a multinomial system!
This Sunday, 17 January, voters in Chile and Ukraine will vote in presidential elections. In Ukraine the vote will be the first round of a near-certain two-round contest, while in Chile it is a top-two runoff.
This will be Ukraine’s first presidential election since the Orange Revolution of late 2004, and the man whose name was chanted for days and nights by the crowds in the central square of Kyiv, Viktor Yushchenko, is expected to place no higher than third and thus be eliminated. I wonder how often an incumbent president fails to place in the top two–not very often, I presume. The runoff would thus pit Yuliya Tymoshenko against Viktor Yanukovych–the same two who have taken turns in the prime minister’s chair since the Orange Revolution. Given the voting patterns that have characterized Ukraine’s legislativeelections during Yushchenko’s term, one hardly needs to consult the polls to predict that Yanukovych will “win” the first round (leading to predictable hand-wringing about Ukraine returning to Russia’s orbit), but Tymoshenko will win the decisive second round.
In Chile, most of the polls and punditry say that this is the year that the right, behind the candidacy of Sebastian Pinera, wins executive power through an election for the first time since 1958. I would not write off the Concertacaion (center-left) candidate, Eduardo Frei, just yet, however. A poll this week puts Pinera up only 50.9-49.1. Needless to say, that’s too close to call. Pinera led 44.1 to 29.6, with 20.1 for independent-left candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami Gumucio (ME-O), in the first round. So the big factor is how many ME-O voters get over their unhappiness with ex-president Frei of the Christian Democratic Party being the center-left candidate and return to the Concertacion fold for the runoff. In the legislative elections held concurrent with the first round, the two main blocs were very close (44.4 for the Concertacion and 43.4 for the Coalicion por el Cambio for the Chamber of Deputies). Obviously, many ME-O voters kept to the old habit of voting Concertacion for the legislative race. Will they do so in the presidential runoff? (First round discussion at F&V.)
Chile’s presidential election (first round) is Sunday. The contest is particularly interesting, because there is an “outsider” candidate, Marco Enriquez-Ominami (ME-O),* who is splitting the center-left vote ahead of the first round. As the BBC describes him:
A hyperactive 36-year-old filmmaker with only a few years of political experience under his belt and no party affiliation, no-one gave him a chance when he announced his candidacy.
Chile’s politics since the end of the military regime have been dominated by two big multi-party alliances, and so far the center-left Concertacion has won every election.
ME-O is not likely to be the ultimate winner (or even to advance to a runoff), but he has shaken up the contest.
He says the ruling centre-left coalition, the Concertacion, has run out of steam after 20 years in power, and Chile needs a new constitution and a new electoral system. Both date from the years of military rule under Pinochet.
Mr Enriquez-Ominami has also challenged the established candidates on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, issues which – in a country regarded as among the most conservative and Catholic in Latin America – are seldom discussed during election campaigns.
The mainstream candidates are, for the Concertacion, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei (a former president seeking a comeback following two consecutive presidencies from the Socialist Party) and, from the conservative opposition alliance, Sebastian Pinera (running for the second time).
A previous comment by Eduardo Olivares provides much useful background. As Eduardo notes, this is an interesting parallel with the 2005 election, when it was the center-right that split and had two candidates in the first round.
It will be very interesting to see what impact the presence of two presidential candidates competing for the center-left vote has on the concurrent legislative elections. In 2005, on the right, we saw the very unusual situation of two parties presenting separate presidential candidates while allied for the legislature. This time, of course, the third candidate is an independent rather than an affiliate of one of the allied parties; I assume he does not have his own legislative lists, but I hope someone can confirm that. (With Chile’s 2-seat districts and D’Hondt open-list PR, one of the main political tendencies being split for legislative races would be catastrophic, because it potentially would allow the other bloc of parties to double the votes of the runner-up in many districts and thus win both seats. Given the runoff, on the other hand, there is little cost to splitting in the presidential race. Perhaps as a result we have a new trend in Chilean elections.)
In 2005, the combined coattails of two candidates from the right was not helpful in the legislative races: The two candidates combined for 48.6% of the first-round presidential vote, but their common Deputies ticket did not even reach 40%. How will the coattails effect work for the center-left candidates in 2009?
The presidential runoff, if necessary–as it surely will be–is scheduled for 17 January.
* Not an “outsider” in the sense that Samuels and Shugart (2010) understand that term (where it means a candidate who has not served in the national party for which he or she is running), as ME-O is a legislator. However, he is running from outside of the Concertacion coalition that encompasses most of Chile’s left (as well as the Christian Democrats).
Note: I expect to be off line Sunday and through at least the first half of the week, so I shall rely on visiting propagators to keep the orchard tended for that time.
But maybe they were just setting a trend. Even as the Concertacion, the ruling alliance of the Christian Democrats, Socialists, and other center-left parties, has selected its presidential candidate (Christian Democrat and ex-president Eduardo Frei) and is geting ready to form its congressional lists, a Socialist is collecting signatures for a possible “independent” first-round presidential bid. Greg Weeks has the details.
In my series of posts about the Chilean election, I emphasized continuity across the four administrations since Pinochet, rather than the leftward movement that seems to be such a feature of journalistic coverage of Latin America recently.
Posthegemony generally agrees, but suggests that my emphasis on continuity nonetheless might overlook a trend:
the move within the ConcertaciÃ³n from Frei to Lagos to Bachelet is also definitely a leftward drift.
This is an interesting point, but I am not so sure about the claim. Frei to Lagos, of course. The Christian Democrats and Socialists, although in alliance, still compete against each other in presidential primaries (although they did not hold one in 2005) and in congressional races, and obviously the Socialists are to the left of the Christian Democrats.
But I am not so sure about the claim that Lagos–> Bachelet is a further move to the left. I have heard that before, and it seems to be the conventional wisdom. But based on what? Bachelet has no record of her own in politics, never having contested an election before this one. She served in two ministerial posts under Lagos (Health and Defense). It is highly implausible that she built up a “leftist” policy reputation in the Defense ministry (in fact, probably quite the contrary: Defense was probably a critical post for her building the credibility needed to be taken seriously as a future president). I suppose it is possible that she built up some leftist credentials as Health minister–for the simple reason that the Lagos administration increased spending on health. But even if she did, her room for policy maneuver was constrained be her being an appointee of Lagos.
So, the only basis I see for her to be considered to the left of Lagos is her personal reputation, not her policy experience. That is, being the daughter of an Air Force general who had served in Salvador Allende’s cabinet and was later tortured by Pinochet’s forces, and having lived in exile in East Germany give her a leftist profile–but not one of any policy substance.
Perhaps another reason for the perception might be that Lagos had already built up a moderate reputation before becoming president. He was a senator, and thus had a record on policy and legislative politics (though I do not know much of the substance of that record) that Bachelet lacks.
If she is more “left” than her predecessor, it is likely going to be hard to tell. The Socialist party, as Marc Cooper notes, is not much more leftist nowadays than American Democrats, and whatever her personal preferences, she will remain constrained by the ConcertaciÃ³n alliance–which gets us back to my initial “continuity” argument.
But the most significant fact I see in the election of the “leftist” Bachelet is that a full term of the Socialist Lagos proved once and for all just how unideological Chile’s “left” has become.
As expected (see previous post), Michele Bachelet was elected president of Chile today. With nearly all the votes counted, Bachelet won 53.5% of the vote.
It has now been 48 years since Chileans elected a president who was neither a Socialist nor a Christian Democrat–two parties that opposed each other in the 1970s and earlier, but form the core of the ConcertaciÃ³n that has governed Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1989 dictatorship.
An irony of the Chilean political scene is that the right forms a broader segment of the elecorate today than it did before the 1973 coup, in part because of the social changes wrought by the dictatorship. Yet the right has been unable to win a presidential election or a majority of elected legislators, in part because of the two-seat district system for congress and the two-round system for president–institutional changes wrought by the dictatorship that Pinochet intended to prevent the left from winning, but that have instead generated a stable center-left alliance. With proportional representation (which was the pre-1973 system and may be on its way back soon), coalitions of the moderate right and the Christian Democrats would become feasible.
At the bottom of my previous post, Steven Taylor grafted a post of his own, in which he quotes from a Washington Post profile. Among other things, this profile notes that Bachelet is the first woman in a Latin American country to be elected president who was not the widow of a former president or opposition leader. (There have been a few women who were not widows of male political figures to serve as unelected interim presidents.)
Voting is underway in Chile in the presidential runoff. As the IHT notes, Chile is formally and legally perhaps the most religious and conservative country in Latin America, and yet today it is likely to elect as president an unmarried mother who is a socialist and agnostic, Michelle Bachelet:
Bachelet, 54, a pediatrician who has not held an elective office but who has been minister of health and defense, is the daughter of a general who died in prison after the overthrow of Salvador Allende in 1973. She has had three children by two men, one of whom she never married, and lived with another who had links to a guerrilla group, according to recent biographies. She is not married and is often described as a single mother. She identifies herself as agnostic.
She would be Chile’s first woman president, but the second consecutive Socialist and fourth consecutive post-dictatorship president from the ConcertaciÃ³n, which is an alliance of the Christian Democratic party and various smaller center-left parties, in addition to the Socialists.
Her opponent, Sebastian PiÃ±era, of the right-wing alliance that has had trouble shedding its association with the dictatorship, is fond of invoking the name of God in his campaign. But he faces a fundamental problem, as his attempts to paint the years of ConcertaciÃ³n governance as a period of squandered opportunities has fallen flat:
Chile has enjoyed not only the highest economic growth rates in South America but also a political stability that is the envy of its neighbors.
So part way through the campaign he did what all trailing candidates do when their ideas don’t sell: Get personal.
PiÃ±era’s campaign shifted gears to emphasize that he is a take-charge, can-do, self-made man.
PiÃ±era also sought to differentiate himself on family issues from Bachelet, whose choices have sometimes strayed from Chile’s enshrined traditions. Divorce did not exist here until little over a year ago. Men and women still vote at separate polling stations.
There were attempts to portray Bachelet as a dangerous social radical who secretly favored abortion and gay marriage, both of which are illegal here, though she pledged not to push for changes on either issue. One mayor who belongs to PiÃ±era’s party went so far as to declare that all Christians had a moral obligation to vote for PiÃ±era because Bachelet was “the devil’s daughter.”
Sunday is the runoff election for the presidency of Chile. Indications are that the candidate of the ConcertaciÃ³n, Michelle Bachelet, will win easily, making her the fourth consecutive president from the center-left ConcertaciÃ³n alliance since the end of the Augusto Pinochet miltary dictatorship.
The first round, held concurrently with the election for the Chamber of Deputies and half the Senate seats, in December was considerably more interesting, for the unusual alliance behavior it featured.
At the first round, the ConcertaciÃ³n won a majority in the senate. Also, comparing the 2005 and 2001 deputies results posted by Adam Carr, the ConcertaciÃ³n gained 3.9 percentage points in the vote from 2001, winning a majority of the vote, but picked up only 3 new seats (2.5%). This underscores the extent to which Chile’s legislative electoral system of two-seat districts dampens the leading alliance’s seat bonus. As for the center-right alliance, despite (or because of) its having two presidential candidates in the first round, it lost votes compared to 2001, from 44.3% to 39.0%. That is a loss of 5.3 percentage points, yet it lost only 3 seats–again due to the electoral system.
The two candidates of the right combined for 48.6% of the votes in the first round, yet their common ticket for the Chamber of Deputies could not even reach 40%!
Bachelet’s first-round vote share was 45.9%, and there was also another leftist candidate not affiliated with the ConcertaciÃ³n running, and he won 5.4%. This was actually less than the far-left alliance managed for deputies (7.5%, but no seats). The inescapable conclusion from these data is that ConcertaciÃ³n legislative candidates must have obtained significant votes from voters who favored one of the right-wing presidential candidates. That the right could not generate coattails even with two presidential candidates suggests this electoral cycle was quite a defeat for them, even beyond their likely failure to capture the presidency.
This is a significant development. The ConcertaciÃ³n (center-left) has won a senate majority in Chile’s election today. The alliance has held the presidency and the lower-house majority continuously since the return to democracy in 1989, but the senate has had appointed members selected from among retired senior armed forces officers, supreme court judges, and other officials. These appointed senators gave the Senate a conservative bias for many years after the return to democracy, although in recent years the ConcertaciÃ³n had been able to gain more support from among the appointees.
Earlier this year the appointed seats were removed entirely in a constitutional amendment, and today’s election thus marks the emergence of a fully elected Senate. Senators are elected to 8-year terms, and 20 of the 38 (in 10 of the 19 districts) were up for election this year.
As I explained in a pre-election post, congressional elections are held in two-seat districts in which the alliance with the most votes wins both seats only if it doubles the votes of the runner-up alliance list. Preliminary results show such “doblajes” in two districts in which previously the ConcertaciÃ³n and the right-wing alliance each held one seat. (more…)
As expected, the ConcertaciÃ³n presidential candidate, Michelle Bachelet, and the RenovaciÃ³n Nacional candidate, SebastiÃ¡n PiÃ±era, will advance to a runoff, according to El Mercurio‘s handy graphics and tables:
Results are not final, but probably will not change much.
Bachelet has a strong lead going into the runoff, but the combined votes of the two right-wing candidates are greater than her own votes by just over three percentage points, and total to around 49%. Bachelet and Hirsch combine for a narrow majority for the left. Her task is now to cement that majority in the head-to-head battle leading up to the runoff in January.
Bachelet has to court the left votes without losing more conservative Christian Democrats to PiÃ±era. The more she courts voters on one side, the more she risks losing voters on the other. If Hirsch voters stay home, it is bad news for her, but not as bad as if center-right voters go to her opponent.
On the right, it can’t necessarily be assumed that all of LavÃn’s voters will go to PiÃ±era. Some will abstain and others could even vote for Bachelet, as despite his being the most “right wing” in conventional terms, LavÃn developed a following among some poor constituencies in his term as mayor of a Santiago suburb, and later of Santiago itself. LavÃn only narrowly lost to the current president, Ricardo Lagos, also a Socialist, in the runoff in January, 2000. In the interim, however, he has probably gained more new enemies than friends (which explains why he came in third, behind a fellow right-wing candidate).
Bachelet should win, but it can’t be called a foregone conclusion.
Chileans vote Sunday in presidential and congressional elections. Polls show that there will likely be a runoff required for the presidency, but the likely winner will be Michelle Bachelet of the Concertacion alliance. It is not clear which of the two candidates of the right will qualify for the runoff. Sebastian Piñera of the Renovacion Nacional and Joaquin Lavin of the Union DemocrÃ¡tica Independiente are running within a few percentage points of each other for second place. Because Bacheletâ€™s ultimate victory is so widely expected, the most interesting feature of this election is that, even with two presidential candidates on the right, their parties are running in alliance in the congressional races. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time anywhere that two (or more) parties have presented an alliance for legislative races but not for president (normally one might expect the reverse, if not the same alliance patterns for the two branches).
Bachelet would be the first woman to serve as Chileâ€™s president, and her victory would represent a second successive term for the candidate of the Socialist party. (Chilean presidents are not eligible for immediate reelection, so popular incumbent Ricardo Lagos is not running.)
Bachelet would probably defeat either conservative candidate, but PiÃ±era would be more likely than LavÃn to appeal to some Christian Democratic voters put off by once again having the ConcertaciÃ³n represented on the presidential ticket by a Socialist. So, if there is a potential upset in the making, it is more likely if PiÃ±era places second on Sunday than if LavÃn does.
The presidential election marks the fourth since the end of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Each of these elections has been won by the same electoral alliance, the ConcertaciÃ³n, which consists of the Christian Democratic party (which supplied the first two presidents upon the return to democracy), the Socialists, and other center-left parties. This is the first time that presidential and congressional elections have occurred on the same day since 1993.
To understand why the center-left parties remain in an alliance despite the two-round election of the presidency (which would allow them to run separately in the first round and then pool votes in the runoff, as French alliances do), one must understand the congressional electoral system. There is no other electoral system like it in the world, and it puts a premium on electoral cooperation. It thus has helped sustain two large electoral alliances, despite internal tensions within them.
In fact, it is the very strength of the incentives for cooperation in Chileâ€™s electoral system that explains why the center-right alliance has continued to present joint lists for congress even though its component parties failed to coordinate on a single presidential candidates (and are thus hoping to be able to pool their votes on one candidate to defeat Bachelet in the runoff).
The congressional electoral system, in both houses, is one of two-seat districts and open lists. The voter picks one candidate (in each house race) who is running on a list that also contains one other candidate nominated by the same alliance. The allocation rule used to determine how many seats each list wins in a district is the most common of all proportional-representation formulas, the dâ€™Hondt divisor method. However, due to the small districts, the outcomes are not very proportional: Only two parties, at most, can obtain representation in any district, and the second list is likely to be over-represented. (The latter effect was intended by Pinochet, who discovered to his chagrin in 1988 that the right was not a majority if the Christian Democrats would continue to cooperate with the Socialists).
Under dâ€™Hondt, the list with the largest number of votes wins the first seat (of course), and then its votes are divided by two. If the resulting quotient is still larger than the total votes cast for the second list, then the first list also wins the next seat. If not, then the second list wins the second seat. (In Chile, the process stops here, because there are only two seats per district, but if the magnitude were larger, the list that won the second seat would have its votes divided by three, and the process would continue in this fashion, always dividing a listâ€™s votes by the number of the seat it just won in sequence, plus one, and then seeing which party now has the largest quotient at each step.)
In Chileâ€™s two-seat districts, the result of this rule is that a list wins both seats in a district if, and only if, it doubles the votes of the runner-up list. So, you can see the reason for the premium on alliance. If the center-left were to present a joint list, but the right presented two separate lists for each of its two main parties, then in many districts the ConcertaciÃ³n would win both seats and the right would win none.
As long as the right presents an alliance list, as does the ConcertaciÃ³n, in all but the most one-sided districts, one seat will go to the center-left and one to the right. This means that the congressional outcome is relatively insensitive to changes in the balance of support between left and right. Only a very small number of districts in any election are at the cusp of one alliance winning two seats instead of one (or vice versa).
As I noted, the lists are open. That is, voters select a candidate within a list. If a list wins one seat, it is won by the candidate who won the greater number of votes of the two on that list. Because parties have a reasonably good idea of the districts in which their support is greatest, when the leaders of the parties comprising an alliance are selecting candidates, they can roughly determine the balance of the component parties in congress by nominating, for example, a strong Socialist on the same list with a weak Christian Democrat in one district, while doing the opposite in another.
So, the dâ€™Hondt rule in two-seat districts and the ability of parties to divide up the nominations within their respective alliances means that competition in congressional elections is somewhat limited.
However, this year there is real competition on the right. Not only are the two main conservative parties presenting separate presidential candidates, but they also have some of their better congressional candidates competing against one another in districts in which only one of them is likely to win. Naturally, each presidential candidate wanted to be associated with strong co-partisan legislative candidates wherever possible.
Barring an upset, the outcome of this electionâ€”another Socialist presidency within the ConcertaciÃ³n, and not much change in the left-right balance in congressâ€”is a foregone conclusion. But the competition on the right will be interesting to watch for what it reveals about the relative strength of two parties that are now trying to distinguish themselves more than ever.
That two presidential candidates of the same alliance are nonetheless pooling their votes in congressional races shows the imperative the Chilean electoral system puts on cooperation, however strained it may be at times.
It is likely that the two-seat districts will be abolished in the near future. A return to PR in larger districts would allow the reemergence of the perhaps more-natural tendency in Chile of the Christian Democrats and moderate right to work together. It would also allow the extra-ConcertaciÃ³n left (whose candidate could win 7% or more on Sunday) to gain representation. Now that the years that have elapsed since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship are longer than that dictatorship itself, Sundayâ€™s election could mark the beginning of the end of the two big alliances that first formed over the question of Pinochetâ€™s continuismo.
A commenter to my previous post on Bolivia reasserts his claim that a potential victory by Evo Morales in the scheduled interim election for Boliviaâ€™s presidency would lead to a revolutionary dictatorship. The gist of the commenter’s argument is that it happened in Cuba (Castro) and Venezuela (ChÃ¡vez), and it could happen in Bolivia:
It doesnâ€™t happen overnight, but with a determined despot, it eventually happens. In fact, it always happens.
Wow, what an amazing claim! This is a bit like the claims made by players on victorious sports teams that they wanted it more than the other team. If we believe in ourselves, nobody can stop us! No, the winning team did not want it more, it won because of forces largely out of the immediate control of the players themselves. Same with revolutions and revolutionaries. It is not the determination of the would-be dictator that makes a revolution; it is the collapse or take-over of state institutions that would otherwise check the â€œdetermined despot.â€ In the Bolivian case, the probability is low that Morales could become president in the first place. But if he does, the probability is even lower that he could control congress or dispense with its check on the presidency, and lower still that he could overcome the resistance of the armed forces to the consolidation of a totalitarian-style revolutionary regime.
Letâ€™s review the Cuban and Venezuelan (and, I will add, Chilean) cases and see the extent to which Bolivia has similar characteristics.
In the case of Cuba, Batistaâ€™s army collapsed, unwilling to stand and fight once the dictator fled. (I have developed this argument in Theory and Society (1989), and Robert Dix and others have developed similar arguments.) There were no political parties to articulate the interests of the middle class (as noted by Javier Corrales in Latin American Politics and Society, 2001), and most of the middle class that might have formed the backbone of an oppositions to Castroâ€”the way the Nicaraguan middle class and its parties and backing of armed resistance would later check the Sandinistasâ€”fled the island. There was no legislature to check Castro because it had already been emasculated by Batista. In the decades since coming to power, Castro has never permitted the development of institutions that might check him (as argued by Perez-Stable in Comparative Politics, 1999). Cuba is about as institution-free an environment as one can imagine for a relatively stable political system, and it has been such almost from the day Castro took power, thanks to the collapse of the army and the absence of significant political parties or a legislature.
In Venezuela, ChÃ¡vez had first tried to seize power in a coup in 1992, for which he was subsequently dismissed from the army, but for which he received widespread accolades from the lower classes who had been losing ground under what had become an increasingly hollow form of â€œdemocracy.â€ He was later released from prison and mounted a presidential campaign, and won 58% of the vote in 1998â€”the most ever for a candidate under the 1958â€“98 electoral regime. He campaigned openly on a platform of replacing the countryâ€™s constitution and signed a decree convoking a referendum on the matter on his very first day in office. This represented a break in the institutional order, but one that he clearly had a mandate for (and the supreme court upheld it). In the ensuing years, he has indeed consolidated an ever narrower regime that could be moving in a quasi-totalitarian direction (as I argue in a review of an edited volume on Venezuela; the review will be published soon in Perspectives on Politics). While I do agree that Venezuelaâ€™s political situation has radicalized, it is still a very long way from being â€œanother Cuba.â€ (And while land seizures are indeed on the increase, as the commenter to my first post notes, I would note that they are nowhere near the scale of Zimbabwe. Moreover, ChÃ¡vez still confronts stronger opposition parties and a larger middle class than Mugabe does.)
Now, do these conditions apply in Bolivia? First of all, we do not even know if the elections for December are going ahead, as I noted in my earlier post. If they are, the outer limit in voter support that Morales can obtain is probably in the low-to-mid thirties. (He won 22% and placed second last time.) Under Boliviaâ€™s constitution, the popular vote is not decisive. In fact, Bolivia is one of two countries in the world in which the presidential candidate who obtains the highest vote total in the final or sole round of popular voting can â€œloseâ€ to the runner up. (The other, of course, is the United States.)
Having failed to win a majority outright, Morales would be dependent upon horse-trading in congress just to get the presidency in the first place (as noted by baz in the comments to my earlier post, as well as in the post itself). It is highly unlikely that congress would elevate him to the presidency, but even if it did, he would face a congress in which he had a plurality of seats, but nowhere near a majority. Unlike ChÃ¡vez, who also faced a fragmented congress (elected, unprecedentedly for Venezuela, months before the president in a transparent and successful effort to deprive the winner of a working majority in the body), Morales would lack the popular backing to decree a constitutional-replacement process over the heads of that congress. Not having built up a base of support inside the junior office corps (as had ChÃ¡vez, from the inside), Morales could not count on the acquiescence of the armed forces. I cannot see how a hypothetical Morales presidency could avoid being checked by congress, the military (and probably also the judiciary, which has become quite assertive in recent years, unlike that of Venezuela in the 1990s).
If Morales were to become president, the historical parallel most relevant would not be Venezuela or Cuba, but Chile under Allende. And we know how that ended. But even that scenario is unlikely to be repeated in Bolivia were Morales to become president. Unlike Allende, Morales could not count on a broad alliance of well established parties to support him. He certainly would not get the unanimous support of congress to nationalize gas production, as Allende got for nationalizing copper. The pro-Allende parties managed a narrow majority in 1971 nationwide municipal elections and very narrowly missed a majority in congressional elections three months before the September 11 coup. Allende was a long-time senator with considerable respect across the political spectrum, even if his avowedly revolutionary agenda commanded only minority support. Morales would have none of Allendeâ€™s advantages, such as they were.
Revolutions that occur almost always surprise us. They are notoriously hard to see coming. But if Morales (1) became president, (2) controlled or overcame congress, and (3) marginalized the military, it would be one of the great surprises of contemporary Latin American regime change. Even in revolutions, the preexisting institutions matter. (That was for you Steven T.: a little flashback to, what, 1988?)
Whether Morales is selected president one day or notâ€”and I still think the likely outcome is notâ€”the most likely scenario is continuing instability and ungovernability. Not a pretty scenario, but not the installation of a Marxist dictatorship, either.
Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of the day the Chilean armed forces went to war against their own country’s democratic government, toppling the constitutional socialist government of Salvador Allende and ushering in seventeen years of one of Latin America’s most repressive dictatorships.
While Chile has recovered its democracy over the past sixteen years–probably stronger than ever–the coup of September 11, 1973, will always be remembered as an event that quashed the rights and liberties of a Chilean society that had long been one of the most open in Latin America.
This event, more than any other in my youth, is what pushed me into a career in political science, although I was probably not aware of that until many years later.
Today’s anniversary is a reminder that democracy can never be taken for granted. Allende himself had stated that Chile’s democracy was so solid that there was no risk of a break in the constitutional order as he and his allies in government and the labor movement went about implementing their “Chilean road to socialism.” As Allende said in his first speech as President before the congress (where he had long served as a senator):
It is not simply a formal commitment but an explicit recognition that the principles of legality and institutional order are inseparable from a socialist regime despite the difficulties involved in the transitional period.
Whether it was ever possible to thread that needle between democracy and socialism is, to say the least, debateable. But September 11, 1973, was probably the last day that any revolutionary socialist anywhere in the world believed it was possible. Afterwards, socialists either ceased being revolutionary (like today’s socialist president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos) or ceased being democratic (for instance the leftist parties of El Salvador who had been denied their own electoral victory in 1972). September 11, 1973, was thus genuinely a day that changed history.
The Chilean experience after 1970 is a dramatic example of the impact of institutional rules in democracy. Allende received a plurality of the popular vote in 1970, but it was only 36%. He was duly confirmed by Congress as President per the requirements of the 1925 constitution. However, had Chile required a popular runoff–as its current constitution and most new constitutions in Latin America now require–most likely he would never have been president, and Chile’s democracy would have survived. On the other hand, had he become president but had the 1971 national election been a congressional election instead of a municipal election, Allende’s alliance most likely would have won a majority of seats. That would have meant there would not have been the narrow center-right majority in congress that blocked most of Allende’s program and later declared his government unconstitutional for its use of decree-law provisions that were in fact on the Chilean statute books.
The link in the first line above is to a BBC story remembering the event. It includes a brief and fascinating audio clip of a BBC broadcast from Santiago regarding resistance to the military three days after the coup.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4