Opinion – Mathias Alencastro: Debates played a key role in the Chilean election, and Brazil should follow suit

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The election of Gabriel Boric as president of Chile is anything but chance. His coming to power is the culmination of the most profound process of political transformation in the Americas this century.

This movement began with student protests in 2011, and reached its peak in the election of a new Constituent Assembly, in 2020, and is now consolidated with the coming to power of a young, broad coalition committed to the social achievements of the last decade.

But, like every victory, this Sunday (19) also has a dose of miracle. Chile is the most socially conservative country in the region, and Boric’s generation, despite having accumulated vast parliamentary experience in recent years, has left the land torn apart.

In the image of the iconic Michelle Bachelet, her predecessors were relegated to mere spectators. What led Chile to bring to power a 35-year-old president with the appearance of a santa cecilier?

Presidential debates seem to have played a fundamental role in consolidating the candidacy. Boric successfully went through grueling sessions, in which he was asked about points from his program. Its main advisors were also submitted to long hearings in the most different formats.

Television events also helped to denounce the far-right candidacy of José Antonio Kast, who was trying to pass himself off as a moderate. While Boric demonstrated his ability to govern, Kast struggled to hide the violence of his political culture. Thanks to the debates, at least in part, the Chileans managed to overcome the farce of the two extremes.

Brazilians were not so lucky in 2018. A serious aggression freed Bolsonaro from many debates in the first and entire second round. Afterwards, he spent his term running away from the contradictory and expressing himself in hyper-controlled environments, such as the playpen, a key part of his communication strategy.

The rest of the political class has become accustomed to evading public scrutiny. Ricardo Nunes, that the leaf showed last week being a WhatsApp lion, spent the entire 2020 campaign running away from the cameras. Sergio Moro raises his voice when asked to take a stand on debates, but he only dialogues with handpicked interlocutors.

If the debates in the 2016 Republican primary helped to promote Donald Trump, those in the Democratic 2020 primary marked the territory between professionals and adventurers. Michael Bloomberg, the financial market magnate, entered the presidential race with the old promise to defeat the extremes. He spent Paraná’s GDP on marketers, but collapsed within five minutes of feuding with veteran Senator Elizabeth Warren.

No one doubts that Bolsonaro’s absence from the debates has amputated democracy from a unique instrument for exposing its incompetence and extremism. To overcome this trauma, Brazilian society must force politicians to broad scrutiny next year.

Following Chile’s example, the debate should extend to all themes and above all to the areas most affected by the Covid pandemic, such as science and education. If the 2022 presidential elections are a test of democracy, the best way to prepare them is to sit the country at the table to talk.

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