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Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
    << Back to Chile Government

    In the early 1990s, Chile stood in a favorable position as it rejoined the community of democratic nations. The high rate of growth that began in 1985 continued under the Aylwin government, reaching 10.4 percent in 1992, while inflation moderated. With the exception of Colombia, Chile was the only major economy on the South American continent to finish the 1980s with a per capita GDP larger than that of 1980. High levels of foreign and domestic investment and continued improvement in Chile's export performance suggested that the country's economy would continue to improve.

    Chile also made significant progress in the political sphere. Moderation of the country's political discourse permitted a return to the politics of conciliation. Paradoxically, the special guarantees given to the military and the right in the outgoing regime's institutional order, while fundamentally undemocratic, helped those sectors accept a democratic transition in the knowledge that they retained significant measures of power. The continuation of Pinochet in office also gave comfort to the supporters of the former regime, fearful of a return to popular sovereignty. Ironically, it also contributed to the strong unity and discipline of the former opposition parties that make up the government, reinforcing patterns of accommodation and compromise and contributing to the notable success of the Aylwin administration.

    Although the "authoritarian enclaves" of the past may have contributed to the smooth transition process, they could endanger Chile's democratic stability over the long run. The most troubling problem appeared to be the exaggerated presidentialism embodied in the 1980 constitution. The Aylwin administration performed well within the rules inherited from the military government because of the unusual collaboration among leaders who had developed a strong sense of camaraderie in opposing the dictatorship. Determined not to risk an authoritarian reversal, these leaders insisted on an extraordinary degree of unity in implementing cautious, moderate policies. Legislative leaders and middle- and lower-level activists also understood the need for discipline and consensus, deferring to their leaders within the executive branch on most matters.

    This pattern of "forced consensus," however, could not continue indefinitely. As the new Frei administration was inaugurated on March 11, 1994, it was clear that members of Congress and lowerlevel leaders resented their lack of significant input into the policy process. The lack of authority in the legislature created the risk that Congress would become an essentially negative institution seeking to undermine the executive, with no significant role in developing arenas of accommodation and consensus that had served Chile so well in previous eras.

    Particularly vexing was incompatibility between a presidentialist form of government and a highly institutionalized multiparty system, one in which the president appeared unlikely to obtain majority support in the presidential race and unlikely to enjoy majority support in the legislature. Under such circumstances, Chile would need institutional rules and procedures to provide incentives to build political coalitions across party lines. Although there was consensus in 1993 among the elite on fundamental questions, there was no guarantee that consensus would remain once Chile moved away from the "heroic politics" of the immediate postauthoritarian period to the more "banal politics" of democratic normality. Among the many issues that would challenge Chile's parties and, indeed, could lead to a reconfiguration of party alliances, were, of course, poverty, as well as other matters that had not as yet reached the national policy agenda, such as divorce, abortion, the environment, and grass-roots political participation.

    Chile's electoral system also posed a challenge. Rather than generate a two-party system, the electoral system has encouraged the maintenance of broad coalitions, including parties that would probably not obtain seats in a fully competitive electoral framework. The electoral system could encourage political instability if two runners-up were evenly matched. In a political system where the forces on the left, right, and center are roughly equal in size, the electoral system could lead to the disenfranchisement of one of those sectors if the politics of broad coalitions were to break down.

    Finally, it remained clear that Chilean democracy would not be fully consolidated until civil-military relations were normalized. Although it is important that a democracy insulate the armed forces from partisan political meddling in the same way that the judicial system is kept "apolitical," the broad latitude given the armed forces in the 1980 constitution threatened democratic stability by shielding the military institution from civilian oversight. The task of the Frei government would be to ease this threat by completing the constitutional reforms left pending after the 1989 compromises made with the outgoing military regime.

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    The classic study in English of politics and government in Chile remains Federico G. Gil's The Political System of Chile. Paul W. Drake's Socialism and Populism in Chile, 1932-52 and James F. Petras's Politics and Social Forces in Chilean Development provide valuable discussions of the politics of Chile in the pre-Allende period. There are numerous studies of the Allende years, many of which also provide background material on the political conditions in Chile leading up to the election of the Popular Unity government. These include Paul E. Sigmund's The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-76, Barbara Stallings's Class Conflict and Economic Development in Chile, 1958-1973, Mark Falcoff's Modern Chile, 1970-1989, Edy Kaufman's Crisis in Allende's Chile, and Arturo Valenzuela's The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Chile. Arturo Valenzuela and J. Samuel Valenzuela's Chile: Politics and Society provides an anthology of essays. The Allende years, from the point of view of the United States ambassador who served at the time of the coup, are described in Nathaniel Davis's The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende.

    Studies of the Pinochet years are fewer. The first comprehensive study of the period of military rule is Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela's A Nation of Enemies. A volume of essays providing an overview of the first decade of military rule is J. Samuel Valenzuela and Arturo Valenzuela's Military Rule in Chile. For coverage of civil-military relations during the 1973-88 period, see also Manuel Antonio Garretón Merino's The Chilean Political Process. Paul W. Drake and Iván Jaksic's The Struggle for Democracy in Chile, 1982-1990 is an anthology covering the transition phase.

    The best study of the Catholic Church in Chile is Brian H. Smith's The Church and Politics in Chile. Chile's party system is discussed in Timothy R. Scully's Rethinking the Center. Michael Fleet's The Rise and Fall of Christian Democracy, and Caesar N. Caviédes's Elections in Chile. Frederick M. Nunn's The Military in Chilean History provides a historical discussion of the military. A critical discussion of the military institution under Pinochet can be found in Genaro Arriagada's Pinochet: The Politics of Power.

    United States-Chile relations in the contemporary period are treated in Michael J. Francis's The Limits of Hegemony and Paul E. Sigmund's The United States and Democracy in Chile. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

    Data as of March 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Chile on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Chile FUTURE CHALLENGES OF DEMOCRATIC CONSOLIDATION information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Chile FUTURE CHALLENGES OF DEMOCRATIC CONSOLIDATION should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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