Tuesday, December 7

Chile and Venezuela, two elections marked by high abstention

Elections are the mechanism to resolve political conflicts in peace. Few intellectuals have been able to define the social entanglement of voting with such simplicity as Adam Przeworski. For the American political scientist, elections are a peaceful substitute for rebellion.

Voting authorizes the winners to impose their will, without violence and within certain limits, based on social support. If we are dissatisfied with the government, we vote to remove them. If we want continuity, we vote to support them. We vote if we want order and if we want change. Even if we feel anger at the usual politicians.

Last Sunday, Latin America had two elections that, for different reasons and from opposite realities, have been defined as the most important in recent years. The “historic” presidential elections in Chile and the regional “mega-elections” in Venezuela that, because of everything they put at stake, promised a high level of participation.

But both in Chile, a country with a robust representative democracy and strong institutions, and in Venezuela, where democratic institutions hang by a thread and if they are not completely broken, it is because of the replacement of authorities in the National Electoral Council and the opposition decision to participate that they have given him some air to continue, more than half of the population chose not to vote.

In both cases, although there has been a slight rebound compared to the previous elections, the number of voters did not improve all that was expected even after advancing with several changes demanded by a significant part of society, such as allowing a greater diversity of voters. candidates in Chile or regain confidence in the electoral authorities in Venezuela.

Why a majority choose not to participate. Furthermore, why is it that when a society reaches an electoral process with a large part of the changes in the rules that they had asked for and for which it had been fighting, it decides not to vote. The answers may vary depending on the context: because the elections are not competitive, because the political alternatives are too similar or because, whoever you choose, nothing changes.

The collapse of participation worries in Venezuela. Until before this election, abstention was a legitimate political tool of the opposition. The decision to discourage voting in this country did not come from below but from above. It was the political leadership, headed by the opposition Democratic Unity Table (MUD), which once the Government of Nicolás Maduro decided not to recognize the victory of the opposition in the National Assembly, in 2016, called not to vote.

Sunday’s election was the first in many years that the MUD decided to run. However, the result has not been as expected. The participation was 41.8%. The percentage grew 10 points compared to the legislative elections of last December, but is more than 30 points below the 2015 elections and 20 compared to the 2017 regional elections.

In short, it is the highest abstention in for an election in which there was no slogan not to participate from the main opposition force. The fact that 20% of the Venezuelan population no longer lives in Venezuela is not a minor fact.

So why did more than half of the Venezuelans decide not to participate if there was a replacement of the electoral authorities, with authorities opposed to the Government that make this body a more reliable entity and that also had impartial international observers. The answer is not obvious nor does it respond to a single cause.

Institutional weakening, following the thesis of political scientists Steve Levitsky and María Victoria Murillo, may have resulted in a successful political strategy for the purposes of the Venezuelan government. For a social majority, the rules in Venezuela were created not to be followed.

In that case, it is time to stop saying that Venezuelan society is polarized when there is a social majority that does not elect either for Chavismo or for the leaders of this opposition divided into a hundred pieces but united by the terror of Madurismo. Something in the link between society and politics, not just the government, broke.

The presidential elections on Sunday in Chile have been the most fragmented since the recovery of democracy. In this election, Chileans were no longer surrounded by the moderate options presented by the sealed bicoalitional system and could choose between seven candidates that ranged from the traditional left to the extreme right. However, participation was not even half.

In Chile, when voting was no longer compulsory, in 2012, the attendance at the polls fell to the half. It went from 90% to less than 40%. The 2020 constituent plebiscite, which was born out of the 2019 protests, managed to overcome the 50% barrier and gave hope to the start of a voter recovery in the electoral process.

But the eight-point drop in participation in the conventional elections of May this year and the 47.3% of this Sunday, similar to those of 2017, reveal that despite the protests of two years ago, more than half the population continues without wanting to participate.

Manuel Antonio Garretón, renowned sociologist at the University of Chile, describes it as the break between politics and society. The numbers are a symptom of the disconnect between the political world and society, which the outbreak of 2019 came to denounce, but which is still difficult to overcome. For Garretón, together with the loss of sense of politics, there is a crisis of representation.

The fact that Chileans no longer want to be represented by politicians ends up damaging the classic mechanisms of participation such as voting, even if the candidates are other. It will take a time, longer than desired by new political expressions, to regain the trust of citizens less steeped in politics.

Representation is hurt in several Latin American countries. Even in countries with compulsory elections such as Argentina, where turnout fell in the last legislative elections. And that is a mark of fire in several countries, in many of which the most radical expressions of the right are making their way.

Why vote when politics is only getting tangled up in power fights. Why vote when nothing changes. The democratic forces will have the urgent challenge of recovering the imaginary, as simple as it is necessary, that voting is good for something.


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