The Parties of the Center

Chile Table of Contents

The Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano-- PDC), formally established in 1957, traces its origins to the 1930s, when the youth wing of the Conservative Party, the Conservative Falange (Falange Conservativa), heavily influenced by the progressive social doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the works of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, broke off to form the National Falange in 1938. Although the PDC remained small for many years, it came to prominence in the 1940s, when party leader Eduardo Frei Montalva became minister of public works. The party's fortunes improved gradually improved as the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church shifted from an embrace of the right toward a more progressive line that paralleled the reformist bent of the Falangist leadership. The PDC came into its own in 1957, when it adopted its present name after uniting with several other centrist groups. It elected Frei to the Senate while capturing fourteen seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The party polled 20 percent of the vote in the presidential race in 1958, with Frei as standard-bearer. In 1964, with the support of the right, which feared the election of Allende, Frei was elected president on a platform proclaiming a "third way" between Marxism and capitalism, a form of communitarian socialism of cooperatives and self-managed worker enterprises.

Although the PDC grew significantly during Frei's presidency and succeeded in obtaining the largest vote of any single party in contemporary Chilean history in the 1965 congressional race, the Christian Democrats were not able to overcome the tripartite division of Chilean politics. Its candidate in the 1970 election, Radomiro Tomic Romero, came in third with 27.8 percent of the total vote.

The PDC soon broke with Allende, rejecting measures issued by decree without legislative support and shifting to an alliance with the parties of the right. Although the PDC leadership, which by 1973 had returned to the more conservative orientation, welcomed the coup as "inevitable," a significant minority condemned it. Within months, the party began to distance itself from the military government over the new regime's strongly antipolitical cast, its human rights violations, and its clear intention of remaining in power indefinitely. By 1980 the PDC was playing a leadership role in opposition to the military regime.

In the aftermath of the military regime, the PDC emerged as Chile's largest party, with the support of about 35 percent of the electorate. The PDC had been divided internally by a series of ideological, generational, and factional rivalries. A large number of party followers identified themselves as center-left, while many viewed themselves as center-right. The PDC retained a commitment to social justice issues while embracing the free-market policies instituted by the military government. However, the communitarian ideology of the past receded in importance, and the Christian Democrats remained reluctant to take issue with the Roman Catholic Church's stands on divorce and abortion.

Although the Aylwin administration was a coalition government, the PDC secured ten of twenty cabinet seats. In the 1989 elections, the Christian Democrats also obtained the largest number of congressional seats, with fourteen in the Senate and thirty-eight in the Chamber of Deputies. In October 1991, in a major challenge to President Aylwin and the traditional leadership of the party, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle was elected PDC president, placing him in a privileged position to run for president as the candidate of the CPD.

Another party that could be classified as centrist was the Radical Party, whose political importance outweighed its electoral presence. The Radical Party owed its survival as a political force to the binomial electoral law inherited from the military government and the desire of the Christian Democrats to use the Radical Party as a foil against the left. It was to the Christian Democrats' advantage to provide relatively more space to the Radicals on the joint lists than to their stronger PPD partners. The Radicals succeeded in electing two senators and five deputies in 1989 and were allotted two out of twenty cabinet ministers, despite polls reporting that they had less than 2 percent support nationally. It remained to be seen if, over the long run, the Radical Party could compete with Chile's other major parties, particularly the PPD, which had moved closest to the Radical Party's traditional position on the political spectrum.

More about the Government and Politics of Chile.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress