New proof of political decline or an institutional facelift? What could hide the impeachment of Piñera in Chile, 10/11/2021.
Although the final decision depends on the Senate –with great possibilities that it will not prosper– it could be the way for the existing institutionality to be purged, or at least to try to re-oxygenate, from the political parties and Congress.
Like any event, the decision of the Chilean Chamber of Deputies to open a impeachment trial of President Sebastián Piñera, prohibiting him from leaving the country, may have several interpretations.
Although it is still too early to assess the scope of this measure, it must be borne in mind that the presidential elections will be held on 21 November; that is, a macro-event is expected to close a societal cycle and produce a new political map in a few days.
One interpretation, which is obvious and seems incontestable, is that the impeachment is nothing more than the logical result produced by a political system born of a military dictatorship and with a level of corruption that has caused the stability of the institutionality to succumb. In addition, it comes after the outbreak of 2019 that ended the myth of the Chilean model, plunging the country into total chaos for several months and from where the impulse for a constitutional change was born in which there were, and there are, great expectations.
From this approach it is a rotten system, which has its final decline sung and which is very well represented in the current president and his high degree of popular repudiation. But there are also other readings.
Return to institutional normality?
Although the final decision depends on the Senate –with great possibilities that it will not prosper– the opening of this impeachment, after the street conflict, could be the way for the existing institutionality to be purged, or at least try to reoxigenarse, from the political parties and Congress.
It is a good opportunity for the political powers of the traditional center-left and the center to wash their faces, distancing themselves from the 'Piñera disaster' and the open corruption of the current government.
Let us not forget that the current Constitutional Convention requires the proposal of the new magna carta to have a broad consensus of 2/3 of the plenary, which indicates that very profound changes in the wording of the text are difficult and makes it easier for the status quo to have many ways to survive the crisis.
In addition, the establishment has played to rapidly erode the leaderships that emerged during the constituent process and the popular revolts, which repositions, in a natural way, the existing parties. Street protests no longer have the same capacity for mobilization.
Therefore, it is a good opportunity for the political powers of the traditional center-left and the center to wash their faces, distancing themselves from the 'Piñera disaster' and the open corruption of the current government, evidenced in the Pandora Papers scandal.
With this, the lower house pushes the Chilean political sphere towards a return to its traditional contradiction between left and right, like the one that occurred in the closed vote in the lower house to approve 'the impeachment'. Thus, it again establishes a more even correlation and ends up preventing the development of new imposing majorities such as those seen in the referendum and elections of the constituent conventions, where traditional politicians were defeated overwhelmingly.
Piñera's decline is demonstrated not only in the deep social crisis that has been generated in his second term, but also in the upswing of a radical right, represented in José Antonio Kast, who criticized the weakness with which the president faced the explosive situation, although he rejected the prosecution.
From the institutional left to the radical right, however, they reach consensus in viewing Piñera as a rotten apple that needs to be extracted.
Gone is the image of a Piñera as a bulwark in the middle of a quasi-war action on the Venezuelan border of Colombia trying to overthrow the Maduro government and impose Juan Guaidó at the beginning of 2019, when his mandate was just beginning and he did not know what would come over him.
Presidential election within two weeks
The first round of elections, which will take place on November 21, will give a map not only of the likely winner, but also of the room for manoeuvre that the new president will have to adapt to a new Constitution. Congress deputies and senators are also elected on that day. The second round would be held on 19 December if necessary.
The decision to prosecute Piñera is a way to wash the face of the traditional parties and Congress and make the elections a turning point in which many who were overwhelmed by the maremágnum of 2019 could survive.
It should also be noted that the degree of conflict, as well as the opposition's capacity to mobilize, has been diminishing and that the status quo that felt an earthquake under its feet during the outbreak believes that it is time to reposition itself.
In this way, politicians try to return the waters to their institutional channel. The decision of the Chamber of Deputies to prosecute Piñera is a way of washing the face of the traditional parties and Congress and making the elections a turning point in which many who were overwhelmed by the maremágnum of 2019 could survive.
The candidate of the moderate left, Gabriel Boric, is perhaps the one who can best represent a change, timid, but at least with a minimum processing of the most felt demands in the burning Chilean streets of 2019 and 2020.
However, nobody rules out that José Antonio Kast goes to the second round and there tries to give the surprise in the middle of an upswing in public opinion of conservatism, a kind of counter-reform that in the elections will show if it is real or only media.
For now, Piñera will not be able to leave the country while the Senate makes a final decision on his fate.
To make matters worse, the provinces of the Mapuche area are militarized and the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights has expressed concern about the government's repressive action.
It is also worth recognizing that some changes have already been carried out, such as the possibility to choose by popular vote, the regional governors, a fact that was completed in may 2021 for the first time in chilean history, a situation that showed the backwardness of the country with respect to the region in the field of democracy, which has been protected militarily since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.
In a few weeks we will know how all these edges contribute to the production of an event like the first presidential ones after the outbreak and the constituent convention it produced.
There we will know how much Chilean society has changed and if we can talk about a new political cycle.
By Ociel Ali Lopez, a sociologist, political analyst and professor at the Central University of Venezuela. He has won the municipal Literature prize 2015 with his book Dale más petrolera and the Clacso / Asdi prize for young researchers in 2004. Collaborator in various media in Europe, the United States and Latin America.
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