“President Gabriel Boric, the day he took office, said on the balconies of La Moneda that ‘we are going slowly, because we are going far’. I would add something else: ‘We are going far, because we are going together’. That is the great lesson for the left: unity around projects for profound changes”, assures the president of the Senate, Álvaro Elizalde (Talca, 1969), who in several passages of this interview appeals to the need for a “broad alliance of the left that does not renounce its transforming vocation”. Until a few days ago, Elizalde led the Socialist Party (PS), which today is part of this Administration, with important ministries, such as the Treasury, despite the fact that it does not form the block of origin of the current president and in the first presidential round he had his own candidacy.
As the second most important authority in the country, it fell to the new president to place the sash a week ago. From his brand new office in the Senate, he recounts his view of the path taken by the PS, a party that is part of the Socialist International and with close ties to the Spanish PSOE.
Ask. In Spain, Podemos entered the government led by the socialist Pedro Sánchez. In Chile, on the other hand, it is the historic PS that accompanies an emerging leader of the left. How do you explain it?
Answer. Here, as in Spain, an understanding between leftist actors was also necessary to face the right together and, in the case of Chile, to ensure the success of the government. Here too, like Podemos, the Broad Front had the idea of replacement. But the last parliamentary election in Chile, in November of last year, showed that we are a living force.
P. Of what was the center-left Concertación (1990-2010), only the PS has remained in a privileged position, today at the epicenter of power.
R. There has been a questioning of the traditional parties, particularly the center-left, which has resulted in a decrease in their electoral representation. But the PS is a party that is part of Chilean culture, which has played a historical role in very relevant episodes, with a national presence. There is an important identification in particular with the figure of Salvador Allende. That does not mean that we have done everything right, that we are not self-critical and that the crisis of the traditional parties does not affect us, on the contrary. But we have had better bases to face these times.
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P. What has PS done wrong? For at least a decade it has suffered a flight of militants to the left and new movements and parties are formed, such as Boric’s Broad Front.
R. For a long time, the electoral register was frozen: a system of voluntary registration with compulsory voting was established. Therefore, the new generations did not register and did not participate in the electoral events. The register began to age and the political system spoke only to those who participated in the elections and stopped speaking to the new generations, they lost the link. We were part of that mistake, added to the fact that we had a relevant role in the different democratic governments. Today, regarding the phenomenon of the Broad Front, there is an irruption of a new generation that feels identified with our history and principles, with substantive coincidences, but that has been raised with the logic of replacement –some of them– with respect to the traditional leadership.
There is an irruption of a new generation that identifies with our history and principles
P. How do you read Boric’s gestures to Allende?
R. Allende’s leadership is of a universal nature and is highly valued, especially by the new generations. There is a new generation that feels heir to Salvador Allende. It is the sign of a socialist who strongly argued, especially in his political behavior, that democracy and socialism are two indissoluble concepts.
P. Is Boric a socialist, even if he is not a party member?
R. In a broad sense, yes. And that is why we believe it is necessary to create a space for convergence with emerging movements and parties that allows us to build a majority. Boric is a person of the left, with profoundly democratic conceptions, with a commitment to human rights that do not admit a double standard and committed to profound transformations. And from a cultural point of view, he is very identified with what the history of our party represents.
P. How does this Government face a project of deep transformations with an atomized Chamber of Deputies and the Senate tied with the opposition?
R. We will have to appeal to dialogue and understanding with other actors that allow us to build majorities around the reforms that the Government has proposed. Although it is not easy, there are sectors of the right that could eventually be open to these understandings, because they are aware that in Chile there is a questioning of the political system for its inability to respond to the demands of citizens.
P. In May 2021, less than a year ago, part of the Broad Front and the Communist Party slammed the door on their party, which was seeking a joint definition in the presidential primary. And you said: “The party of Salvador Allende is not humiliated.”
R. The then presidential candidate of the Communist Party, Daniel Jadue, and the president of Boric’s party refused to allow our allies to participate in a unitary primary. But I want to distinguish: Boric had a different position. That is why once he wins the presidential election, he summons the PS to be part of his government.
P. The Socialist Party, then, governs with part of a political bloc that humiliated them less than a year ago…
R. But Boric did not. And, secondly, there is a higher interest. It’s not about passing bills on each other. That logic was what generated the atomization of the left and the center left in Chile. We will always put Chile and its people before other considerations.
P. How can a joint future be built with such a different view of the past? Socialist leaders, such as former President Ricardo Lagos himself, have been especially criticized by the left that is today in La Moneda.
R. I have a very critical view of the transition but, being rigorous, under no circumstances can one think that everything that was done before was bad. But at the same time, I believe that if this is the dispute between the forces of the left, the only beneficiary will be the right.
I have a very critical view of the transition, but you cannot think that everything that was done before was bad
P. Why does Boric summon the Socialists to his Government, if part of the founding speech of the Broad Front is criticism of the Administrations that the PS led?
R. When Boric summons us, he does so from the logic of respect for the party. And for various reasons. We supported him in the second round in exchange for nothing, because we had in front the candidacy of José Antonio Kast, from the extreme right, who represented a threat to advances in civilization. It was a patriotic duty. But, secondly, because if the base of support was not broadened, especially in parliament, it would be much more difficult to carry out the programmatic commitments. Boric made a brave decision to expand his support base around two coalitions: I Approve Dignity (the Broad Front and the Communist Party) and Progressive Convergence (which make up the parties, such as the Socialist, that made up the extinct Concertación and that form the Socialist International).
P. Will they formally unite into a single bloc?
R. This may be the first step in building a new alliance with a majority vocation, but it must be done without haste.
P. What is your opinion of the Chilean Communist Party, which is also part of Boric’s bloc?
R. We have substantive differences with the PC, especially in the international arena, but we also have deep respect. We have worked many times together.
P. Is the Chilean PS left or center left?
R. It is a left-wing party, it is its tradition, based on Allende’s legacy. Therefore, committed to profound changes. It is true that we were part of coalitions with more moderate sectors to build majorities. And in the past we often made the mistake of not defending our flags clearly, to explain to the public that no further progress was being made as a result of the correlation of forces in the political system and in Chilean society itself. That may have disfigured our identity.
P. So, is this current alliance more comfortable for you than the one you had with the Christian Democrats, since 1990?
P. Undoubtedly there is a much stronger cultural identification. But since there is the repeated error of judging the past with the eyes of the present –because the transformations that can be promoted today are the result of efforts made by others in other times–, something more serious happens: trying to build the future with the eyes of the past. . There are conservative sectors of the center-left that want to reconstitute what was the political logic of the transition. But it is a mistake, because Chile has changed, fortunately. Today there are complete generations that were born in democracy, who dare more.
P. For you, then, who says that culturally the Chilean Socialist Party is culturally closer to the Broad Front than to Christian Democracy…
R. With the DC I want to be very careful, because it has been a fundamental actor to build majorities. In Chile it is the center that tips the balance. So, we have to have an alternative to understand ourselves with the progressive center. I do not think that the role played by the progressive center in the construction of majorities should be underestimated.
“With the Christian Democracy I want to be very careful, because it has been a fundamental actor to build majorities
P. Where should Chile start its reforms?
R. We have a structural problem with a terrible distribution of wealth and redistributive policies have been insufficient. And it has not been possible to advance with more force due to a constitutional framework imposed by a dictatorship that declares our ideas outside the Constitution, that is, the reforms that tend to build a welfare state. Therefore, a new Constitution will allow us to free ourselves from the straitjacket that the current Fundamental Charter represents.
P. Are you worried that the Convention will discuss minor powers to the Senate? This Friday, the norm that poses an asymmetric bicameralism will be voted on.
R. It is part of the debate. And all sectors must be heard. I share with President Boric that the new Constitution must be a factor of unity and not of division, as is the case with the current one. If not, there will be a tendency to want to permanently reform the new Fundamental Charter. Regarding the Senate, I think it ensures that the voice of the regions is heard. In addition, it represents a very relevant system of checks and balances in the presidential system.
P. Socialist Maya Fernández, Allende’s granddaughter, took over as defense minister. What does it represent for the party?
R. For us it is a restorative and important gesture.
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