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Column of Ascanio Cavallo: Indecency

The election of the table of the Chamber of Deputies would have to mark the point of no return for the Chilean political system as it has been functioning in recent years. It would have: it often happens with perverse systems that those interested in profiting from it are so numerous that the incentives to modify it decrease to almost zero.

The perversion does not consist, in any way, in the fact that Karol Cariola has become the first woman and the first communist figure to preside over the Chamber. The tenacity with which she was defended by the government, the party and herself cannot be part of anything anomalous, even though her choice is obliquely tainted by what accompanied it. And that problem lies in the negotiation that took place -obviously, with the active participation of the government- to achieve a formula that would lead to that result.

Until the day of the vote, and depending on the count, there were between seven and 10 deputies whose votes were not clear. In both cases this is equivalent to just over 5% of the chamber, but those votes decided the composition of the table. The conditions that were raised in the conversations to tilt those votes – both by the ruling party and the opposition – go beyond all meanings of the word negotiation. Excessive, improper, indecent and personalistic demands cannot be called that way. The third meaning of indecency is precisely “dignity in actions and words.” The closest term in many cases is blackmail. This cannot be blamed on Minister Elizalde, who is in charge of swimming in these same waters every day. Perhaps, like Faustus in his darkest hour, he might know that without pact he would have failed. Nothing else.

Gabriel Boric’s government has been affected by the debasement of a system that also affected Piñera’s second and even, a little less, Bachelet’s second. Its origin is in the terrible reforms to the electoral system and Congress introduced in 2015, based on an erroneous diagnosis regarding the representation of alternative groups to the majority ones. The Frente Amplio promoted them with enthusiasm, with the assumption that space should be opened for new unrepresented minorities, without ever taking into account the need to specify the size of a minority. Obviously, in a Parliament one is not a minority: one is a person. And seven or 10 votes that go on their own are not a minority either: they are seven or 10 people. Even more clearly when those seven or 10 people decide their vote for reasons of strict personal convenience. And how could it be otherwise, if the system allows a one-by-one election?

Politically, this has been a triumph for the ruling party and a clear defeat for the opposition. One showed his effectiveness, the other his inability. One achieved his goal after almost losing it, the other lost it after almost winning it. There is no doubt about this, and now that the race towards 2025 has begun, it must be considered a symptom.

But there is always the question of ends and means. In Spain, the socialist leader Pedro Sánchez managed to form a government by negotiating with seven votes from the Catalan independence movement, whose final aspiration is to end all relations between Catalonia and the government of Spain. He had to negotiate with outlawed and fugitive people, although perhaps he could say that this anomaly was unsustainable for Spain, that a way had to be found for reunion. But if that doesn’t happen, someone will lose: either Spain or the Catalans. Governance is not assured.

The governability of the Chilean Chamber has not been assured either. On the contrary, it is enough for the first vice president to feel betrayed – as often happens – for the shelf to collapse. With it, a consensus has not been achieved, as many nostalgic people from the 2000s long for, but rather a business, a personal and personalized treatment, tailored.

At this point, this fragility is also not attributable to a single person, no matter how electric their resume may be. It is a system that has made parliamentarians owners of an asset that is not personal, which belongs to the voters. Every democratic system faces the problem of where the delegation of power ends and the interpretation of the representative begins. But appropriation for personal purposes is at the edge where democracy collapses. By placing a limit on re-elections, Congress believed it was ensuring its renewal, without seeing – for a change – that while it closed the door to professional politicians, it opened it for transfuguismo and for the construction of zigzagging trajectories, which can take advantage of all spaces after exhausting their terms: mayors, governors, councilors, officials, advisors, in short: you can spend a life in a hurry.

The political tie between a polarized left and a polarized right is a problem for the construction of agreements, of course. But it is a problem that cannot be overcome with opportunistic deals, which threaten to deepen it. Nobody lives better with polarization than opportunism.

It is difficult to find anyone who believes that Congress can take charge of a reform that would affect its current members, even though it may benefit the country. This is part of the discredit that he has on the ground of the evaluation of institutions: many people believe that parliamentarians do not even care about being poorly qualified, nor do they care if they serve the country or not. This opinion is enormously unfair to the majority of deputies and senators. Only a few justify it.

Someday someone will dare.

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