Chile's political gridlock may limit effect of growing protests
Despite a year of overwhelming demonstrations in Chile, including a general strike launched yesterday, analysts say change is unlikely due to the rigidity of the Chilean political system.
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The prior government, under President Michelle Bachelet, was able to coopt a similar student movement in 2006 with promises of dialogue, but Mr. Piñera has been unable to do so because his team is out of touch with the protesters, said Pablo Policzer, a Latin American politics scholar at the University of Calgary.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is a government of Chilean elites," Mr. Policzer said in a phone interview from Villarica in southern Chile. "They live in a quasi-apartheid system, where they go to their own schools, marry amongst themselves, and have very little contact outside of the bubbles they exist in. They just don't have connections to the social movements that are challenging this government now."
A lack of options for change
Hardening positions, a government unable to listen, and the lack of a formal outlet for public complaints may create a long-running gridlock, as no political actor has the will or power to respond to the protesters, analysts say.
Protesters are demanding a referendum, without saying exactly what they want to vote on. The Chilean constitution doesn't offer referendums, or any other way for the public to demand change. Protesters are also demanding that the country's foreign-run copper mines be nationalized so profits could be steered into education, but the current government is very unlikely to attack foreign investors, Mr. Kouyoumdjian said.
Even the 2013 presidential elections offers little hope. The constitution, imposed under the dictatorship of Augustin Pinochet in 1980, makes it difficult for someone outside the machinery of the major parties to win the presidency. While in Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, outsiders have won out over conventional parties in the last 13 years, Chile has "no tradition of populism from either the right or the left," Mr. Israel said.
The most hopeful outcome would be a constitutional change that gave the public an opportunity to be heard, Policzer said. He said it's not impossible that the Piñera government would move in that direction.
A deadline for the student movement is approaching, Israel says. Students in both universities and public schools have been on strike and avoiding classes since June, and will have to repeat the year if they aren't back in session by October. Local governments will also lose the per-student payments used to cover teachers' salaries.
All of the analysts said the student movement has placed the issues of inequality and unequal opportunity into the public discussion. That consciousness will remain, regardless of who has political power.