There is an ever-evolving list of words operating in Chile’s political field. Discursively, its use is tactical, and it is commonly a strategy based on differentiating itself from the adversary. So far all the normal. But how long do you have to repeat an idea to make political discourse?
This list, despite being updated always, is led by the concept of populism. Populism is a political form that almost always appears as a qualifying adjective, and its use is to qualify proposals and demands on the political system. Populism is little defined, and its use is as common and vague as it is strategic.
A few days ago, the public curiously attended the advertisements of Sebastián Piñera in his public account. Undoubtedly, the aplalumeter had its peak when the representative announced the reduction of the number of congressmen in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The discourse of the promoters of this measure appears in two main forms. Thus, the Chilean right brings out the most vertebral of his discourse: efficiency, austerity and results: «to make the catch». As if it were a firm, we measure the outcome of Congress as the one measuring units produced in a company. It is not the significance and depth of the public policies formulated in the legislature, it is the frequency and magnitude that counts. Congress then loses any possibility of being a strategic space for long-term public policymaking, and refers to the well-known body that administers and shields institutionality.
Behind this proposed legislative reduction there is more than efficiencies and results. What this announcement holds is a different democratic vision, a less widespread vision of political representation, which is obviously contrary to the latest electoral reform. Mathematics can be made little mistake, and such a reduction in concealer reduces the -moderate -proportionality of the operating electoral rule. So far, any trial is normative or tasteful. Electoral systems in the world vary, generating or governance, or representativeness, or both.
Thus, officialism asserts that the reform that ended the binominal system has not yielded meritorious results to justify the increase of congressals. So what are the expected results from the congressman’s work? What will be the role of Congress? This is interesting, as long as officialism would hope that parliamentary work could be coupled, converged, or at least coincide with the executive’s legislative agenda. But the current proportional system is articulated to ensure the representativeness of the country’s political diversity, not to achieve goals, as if every law passed were a unit produced. Similarly, following the argument of «legislative performance», it would be appropriate to give the President the power to govern by decree (if what mattered were to meet goals actually completed legislative processes).
This would mean a certain antagonism between a community of voters who look suspiciously at the performance of Congress and a political community, who appear estranged. When the Government proposes that the number of seats should be reduced, it gives vigour to this conflict, taking advantage of a community that alienand and misses the behavior of politicians. With this, officialism is following the basic and traditional recipe of populisms: to syndicate a group of society, commonly excluded- (We), against another dominant group of society (They).
Second, the current electoral rule is accused of allowing candidates with marginal percentages of votes to be elected. And it’s effective: Chile Vamos, the former New Majority and the Broad Front won seats from the sum of votes. Thus, for example, the member who gets the most votes nationally in the last election, Giorgio Jackson, «drags» two of his colleagues from the list: Natalia Castillo and Gonzalo Winter. Following the logic of the Executive, this is not right. Congressman Jackson should keep his votes. In reality, if proportional electoral systems were to function in this way, they would be going against the pillars of modern and healthy democracies. If the electoral system did not offer incentives for people to vote with the party in mind rather than the politician, we would be attending a really populist (now yes) moment: politics at the service of personality. The experience of some neopopulisms gives an account of the practice of governing by bypassing or disregarding the party (Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori).
To argue, as a third argument, that the number of congressmen resulting from the 2017 elections has resulted in an unjustified increase in expenditure, makes it inevitable to return to the debate on parliamentary allowances. Here, populism reappears, but now in discursive form, used as a qualifying adjective. The criticism of the proposed diet reduction in Congress is that we would be faced with a populist idea. However, nothing can continue to explain the high salaries received in the legislature, having exhausted all the traditional arguments: it is false that high salaries will prevent the corruption of civil servants, and it is false that high salaries will ensure technical skills, less the moral skills, of the Chilean Congressmen.
Populism continues to be a very useful tool for discursive strategy in the conflicts of Chile’s political field. Its use is as abundant as the inaccuracy in its definitions.
Sharun Uttamchandani Mujica