The Parties of the Right

The Parties of the Right

In 1965, following the dramatic rise of the Christian Democrats, primarily at their expense, Chile's two traditional right-wing parties, the Liberal Party and Conservative Party, merged into the National Party (Partido Nacional--PN). Their traditional disagreements over issues such as the proper role of the Roman Catholic Church in society paled by comparison with the challenge posed by the left to private property and Chile's hierarchical social order. The new party, energized by the presidential candidacy of Jorge Alessandri in 1970, helped the right regain some of its lost electoral ground. The National Party won 21.1 percent of the vote in the 1973 congressional elections, the last before the coup.

The National Party was at the forefront of the opposition to the Allende government, working closely with elements of the business community. National Party leaders welcomed the coup and, unlike the Christian Democrats, were content to accept the military authorities' injunction that parties go into "recess." Until 1984 the National Party remained moribund, with most of the party leaders concerning themselves with private pursuits or an occasional embassy post. With the riots of 1983 and 1984, leaders on the right began to worry about the return of civilian politics and the challenge of rebuilding party organizations. In 1987 three rightist organizations--the National Unity Movement (Movimiento de Unidad Nacional--MUN), representing leaders of Chile's traditional parties; the National Labor Front (Frente Nacional del Trabajo-- FNT), headed by a more nationalistic group tied to small business and rural interests; and the Independent Demócratic Union (Unión Democráta Independiente--UDI), constituted by former junta advisers and officials of the military government--joined to form the National Renewal party as a successor to the National Party. The uneasy alliance soon broke apart as the UDI signaled its strong support for the plebiscite of 1988 and a Pinochet candidacy, while the National Renewal party indicated its preference for an open election or a candidate other than Pinochet.

With Pinochet's defeat, the National Renewal party's prestige rose considerably. In the aftermath of the plebiscite, National Renewal worked closely with the other opposition parties to propose far-reaching amendments to the constitution. The National Renewal party, however, could not impose its own party president, having to concede the presidential candidacy of the right to the UDI's Büchi. After the 1989 congressional race, the National Renewal party emerged as the dominant party of the right, benefiting strongly from the electoral law and electing six senators and twenty-nine deputies. Its strength in the Senate meant that the Aylwin government had to compromise with the National Renewal party to gain support for key legislative and constitutional measures. The National Renewal party saw much of its support wane in the wake of party scandals involving its most promising presidential candidates.

While the RN drew substantial support from rural areas and traditional small businessmen, the UDI appealed to new entrepreneurial elites and middle sectors in Chile's rapidly growing modern sector. The UDI also made inroads in low-income neighborhoods with special programs appealing to the poor, a legacy of the Pinochet regime's urban policy. The assassination of UDI founder Senator Jaime Guzmán Errázuriz on April 1, 1991, was a serious blow, depriving the party of its strongest leader.

A discussion of the parties of the right would not be complete without a mention of the Union of the Centrist Center (Unión de Centro Centro--UCC), a loose organization created by Francisco Errázuriz. Because parties of the left like to call themselves "center-left" and parties of the right "center-right" to avoid being labeled as extremist, Errázuriz coined the somewhat redundant name of the UCC to show that he is the only centrist-centrist. The UCC had no party organization and no clear programmatic orientation. Yet it regularly commanded the support of about 5 percent of the electorate, enough to place the party in a privileged position to bargain for places on the party lists of either the right or the CPD, giving Errázuriz more clout than his real support would indicate.

The advent of the 1993 presidential race underscored the continued rivalry of the parties of the right. Reformers in the National Renewal party failed in their effort to provide the nation with a new generation of rightist leaders as Senator Sebastian Pińera and Congresswoman Evelyn Matthei canceled themselves out in a bitter struggle. Only after months of charges and countercharges, and in the face of the CPD's remarkable capacity for unity, could the National Unity party, UDI, and UCC succeed in structuring a joint congressional list and selecting a presidential candidate.

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