Although Chile is a relatively small country, writings about the Chilean
party systems have long been better and more voluminous than is the case
with most party systems in Latin America. Several orthodoxies have
emerged in this literature: that Chilean parties are strong, that the party
systems have been divided into three roughly equal parts, and that they
have been relatively stable. The purpose of this article is to challenge these
three orthodoxies. These orthodoxies are not completely wrong, but they
need to be qualified.
The dominant view that Chilean parties are strong has been overstated.
They have been strong in some respects and for some periods, but not in
others. Parties have traditionally dominated mechanisms of representation
in Chile's democratic periods, overshadowing unions, social movements,
and other forms of representation. Party penetration in the electorate,
however, has not been powerful. Parties have appeared and disappeared
with frequency, and most parties have been relatively weak organisationally.
More so than is the case in Uruguay, Venezuela from 1958 until
the 1990s, Costa Rica or most of Western Europe, Chile's democratic
periods have allowed space for anti-party populists to develop successful
political careers, including capturing the presidency.