The Policy-Making Style of the Chilean Government of President Frei*

Article excerpt


During the last decades many countries of the world have experienced the transition from authoritarian to democratic regimes. In South America also a number countries have returned to democratic rule since the 1980s. One of these countries is Chile.

The case of Chile has captured the attention of social scientists for many reasons. Among the reasons are the characteristics of its democratic regime. Some scholars studying Latin American politics see the Chilean, and also the Uruguayan, present-day democracies as more consensual models of democratic rule that contrasts with the more "delegative" democracies existing in other Latin American countries today (O'Donnell, 1994:55-69).

Accordingly, this study is concerned with the functioning of the current Chilean democratic system. More specifically, it aims to ascertain the policy-making style adopted by the democratic government of President Frei. To fulfil this objective, I describe and analyze the "shaping" of the process making of a particular foreign trade policy decision adopted in Chile during that government: the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR).1 Analyzing the shaping of the process of any policy decision means analyzing the policy configuration that emerges as a consequence of the relationships between the actors who are empowered to make the decisions and those who influence or want to influence the policy decision.

Furthermore, social sciences scholars have pointed out the significant presence of technocrats in the policy-making of the two governments of the coalition of parties, Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (CPD), that has been governing Chile since the restoration of democratic rule in 1989 (Silva, 1998). Therefore, a secondary objective of this paper is to detect whether the decision process mentioned above presents some technocratic characteristics and to assess the possible implications that technocratic elements in policy-making can have for the participation of political and social actors in that decision-making process.


In recent years, scholars writing about the issue of economic reforms in the newly restored democracies have emphasized the importance of the policy style adopted by the governments facing the policy reforms. According to them, the adopted policy style matters in relation to the consolidation of democratic institutions in those countries (Przeworski, 1995: 80-85; Bresseretal, 1993: 208-210).

What is it meant by "policy style"'? Generally understood, policy style is a preferred way of making policy and it has to do with the question of how policy decisions are made. According to Dresser et al; "reforms in fact policy in general - can be developed and implemented in four distinct styles:"

1. "Decretism": The executive, without any public consultation, imposes reform measures on society, persuaded of the correctness of the policy reforms. It does not need parliament support, but it rules by decree.

2. "Mandatism": The executive does not use decree powers. It enjoys a majority in the legislature that allows it to proceed by legislative fiat without any further discussion or consultation beyond the electoral campaign. It entails no consultation with opposing political forces in the parliament or with forces outside it, neither at the stage of policy formulation or at the implementation stage.

3. "Parliamentarism": In this policy style the executive makes the policy options public, consults and negotiates with the opposition in the legislature at various phases in the formulation and implementation of policies. This style can either result from a deliberate decision by the majority to consult and negotiate with the opposition in the legislature or, as often happens in systems of proportional representation, from the fact that the system fails to generate majorities. …