Chile shows the power of political consensus

Mario Ignacio Artaza says a film about a Chilean democratic movement inspires hope of what effective political consensus can do

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 1:23am

Many democratically elected governments today are often reminded by the people they represent of the need to successfully balance social inclusiveness, justice and equality while implementing the free-market principles needed for a competitive economy. In this light, Chile's first full-length Oscar-nominated movie, No, is an example of some of the costs borne by citizens of the world's seventh-freest economy to achieve peace and stability.

Now showing in Hong Kong cinemas, No tells of what it took for a democratic movement to organise itself in the quest for a goal that seemed unattainable at the time. That goal was to rid the nation, through peaceful and democratic means, of the military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.

No is the story of the plebiscite held in Chile on October 5, 1988, organised in accordance with the constitution, when millions of citizens in cities, towns and villages peacefully cast their votes in ballot boxes, with many doubting whether the results would ever be fully respected by the military-led regime. Late that night, and not without drama inside the presidential palace, the strength of the 54.71 per cent who opposed a continuation of the Pinochet-led government triumphed and bloodshed and international isolation was avoided.

Since then, a focus on seeking effective political consensus to construct and put in place reforms aimed at benefiting the many, and not just a few, have brought about a number of firsts for Chile. These include becoming the first nation in Latin America to democratically elect a woman president, Michelle Bachelet; the first South American nation to be incorporated into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; the first to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum; and the first non-Asian country to reach a free-trade pact with China (Chile was the first South American country to recognise Beijing as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people, in 1970).

Today, Chile is Latin America's most competitive economy, with standard hours and mandatory holidays for all workers; a minimum wage of some US$410 per month (per capita income in Chile is the highest of any Latin American country), and a social security system that is frequently showcased for its depth and reach.

In the engineering of an economically strong Chile, democracy, participation, truth, reconciliation, and taking time to listen to and understand the other side in any debate have all been key elements for success.

The film No may be about the efforts of people from a country geographically distant from Asia, but it nevertheless provides valuable lessons in our interdependent world. Solutions to our problems are often not as far away as they appear. That's certainly true if they come from a people who, since the end of the military dictatorship in 1990, have striven to promote peace, dialogue, mutual understanding and respect so that all citizens can recognise that they belong to a country empowered through the strength of the many, while never forgetting that the journey was not without both personal and collective sacrifice.

A career diplomat, Mario Ignacio Artaza heads Chile's Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau