Chile Table of Contents

The Party System

In the early 1990s, Chile had a strong, ideologically based multiparty system, with a clear division among parties of the right, center, and left. Chile's parties traditionally have been national in scope, penetrating into remote regions of the country and structuring politics in small villages and provincial capitals. Party affiliation has served as the organizing concept in leadership contests in universities and private associations, including labor unions and professional associations. Political tendencies are passed from generation to generation and constitute an important part of an individual's identity.

By the middle of the twentieth century, each of Chile's political tendencies represented roughly one-third of the electorate. The left was dominated by the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista--PS) and the Communist Party of Chile (Partido Comunista de Chile--PCCh), the right by the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal) and the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador), and the center by the anticlerical Radical Party (Partido Radical--PR), which was replaced as Chile's dominant party by the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano--PDC) in the 1960s.

Although ideological polarization characterized party politics until the 1960s, political coalitions across party lines helped to mitigate conflict. Party politics dominated both the national arena, where ideological objectives predominated, and the local arena, which focused on more clientelistic concerns. The interplay between these two levels helped moderate interparty conflict. Polarization increased markedly, however, in the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution as parties radicalized their programs, seeking to achieve hegemony over their rivals in an increasingly desperate attempt to control Chile's future.

The military authorities believed that their policies would fundamentally change the traditional party system. Repression, legal restrictions, and new legislation governing parties and elections, combined with profound underlying changes in the nation's social structure, would render the old parties obsolete. Although the authorities conceded by 1985, in the aftermath of national protests, that they had not destroyed the party system, they remained intent on designing rules that would change its basic physiognomy. In March 1987, the Law of Political Parties was adopted, which provided for stringent requirements that officials of the military government believed the old parties could not meet. The law requires each legal party to obtain signatures equivalent to 5 percent of the electorate in at least eight regions, or in at least three contiguous regions. It also places restrictions on party activities and regulates party financing, internal organization, and selection of leaders, specifying that top party leaders be chosen democratically by rank-and-file members.

However, Chile's parties were able to adjust well to the law. Indeed, the requirement for a large number of signatures gave party leaders a strong incentive to mobilize grass-roots support and strengthen local party organizations. The selection of party leadership through democratic means helped legitimize the leaders who fought the military government, leaders whom the authorities had often characterized as unrepresentative.

The Electoral System
The Parties of the Left
The Parties of the Center
The Parties of the Right
The 1993 Presidential Election

More about the Government and Politics of Chile.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress