The dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet ended after a national referendum was called in 1988. The Chilean populace had to choose between having him continue as the president or calling for new general elections. The second option won, and in 1989 Patricio Alwyn from the Democrat-Christian Party and the Concertación (the center-left coalition of Chile) was elected as president. However, before the elections, Pinochet had managed to create many barriers to the installation of a full democracy, maintaining authoritarian elements within the existing and new political institutions.
Despite many reforms that have taken place since 1990, many of those barriers remain. For example, the Constitution of Chile was enacted in 1980 and the Binominal Electoral System, created in 1988 just after the referendum, was replaced only in 2015 by a Proportional Electoral System. With these barriers, the Chilean State has kept its centralized and top-down tradition in the design and implementation of public policies, making it difficult for the development of citizen participation and democratic innovations in Chile.
Concertación ran the government of Chile for the entire period from 1990 to 2010. With few local democratic innovations since the 1990s (such as the cases of “Chile Barrio” and Consejos Regionales), experiments with new institutional designs started to have a more important space in the political agenda only during Ricardo Lago’s government. Eventually, the first official policy for citizen participation was launched based on three mechanisms: (1) the Presidential Instructive for Citizenship Participation, (2) the Citizen Council for Strengthening Civil Society and (3) the Law Project for Citizen Participation: Law 20.500, approved in February 2011.
From 2010 to 2014 the government of Chile was won by Alianza, the center-right coalition of Chile. This period was marked by the emergence of social movements and massive street protests. Beginning with a student movement advocating for a more public, equal and inclusive education system in 2011, protests spread rapidly to many other areas. Since then social movements have been playing an important role in Chile’s public agenda – in civil society, the government and even the Legislative branch. From these movements, for instance, Councils to include the voices of students and indigenous populations in policy-making processes were born with substantial outcomes for the redesign of institutions.
In 2013, the Concertación party regained the presidency in 2014. From that moment on, the number of democratic innovations had significantly increased. Bachelet´s government assumed an active role in the promotion of citizen engagement and participation. This has been achieved through a variety of strategies: sometimes in association with civil society organizations, or other times together with international organizations and in several cases by governmental initiative alone, including the use of top-down structures.
More traditional participatory innovations, such as Participatory Budgeting and Communal Plebiscites, have also been employed in Chile´s administrative structure. More recently, in 2015, the “Participatory Stage of the Constitutional Process” included the possibility to incorporate proposals and comments from citizens to the constitutional text, acquired through face-to-face and online means. To these ends, a large number of participatory stages were also implemented.
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