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History of Chile during the Parliamentary Era (1891-1925)

The Parliamentary Era in Chile began in 1891, at the end of the Civil War, and spanned until 1925 and the establishment of the 1925 Constitution. Also called "pseudo-parliamentary" period or "Parliamentary Republic", this period was thus named because it established a quasi-parliamentary system based on the interpretation of the 1833 Constitution following the defeat of President Jose Manuel Balmaceda during the Civil War. As opposed to a "true parliamentary" system, the executive was subject to the legislative but checks and balances of executive over the legislature were weakened. The President remained the head of state but its powers and control of the government were reduced. The Parliamentary Republic lasted until the 1925 Constitution drafted by President Arturo Alessandri and his minister Jose Maza. The new Constitution created a presidential system, which lasted, with several modifications, until the 1973 coup d'etat.


The pseudo-parliamentary system was established in Chile following Jose Manuel Balmaceda's defeat in the 1891 Civil War. Whereas in a complete parliamentary system the chief of government is designed by the parliamentary majority, and usually belongs to it, the function of chief of government was hereby un-officially assumed by the Minister of Interior. The National Congress indirectly controlled his nomination and the rest of the cabinet through the vote of the periodical laws (leyes periodicas), that is the budget, the military credits, etc. Others means of control included the refusal, by any one of the two Chambers (Senate or Chamber of Deputies) to vote a motion of confidence or the refusal to vote laws of lesser importance proposed by the executive.

While the Parliament may withdraw his confidence to the Prime minister in a standard parliamentary system, the head of government is normally granted the power of dissolution of parliament, leading to the calling of new elections in order to have the sovereign people arbitrate between the legislative and the executive. However, in the Chilean system, the President of the Republic did not dispose of this power of dissolution, thus restricting his margins of decision.

The system of parties was very fluid, functionning on the basis of groups depending on individual personalities or caudillos who held the control of the parties and could form or dissolve cabinets. Furthermore, there was no established voting discipline in the parties. The custom was soon established for the President to nominate "universal cabinets" which included ministers from all parties. The stability of these cabinets was therefore dependent on the political intrigues in the National Congress.

Parliamentary instability was quite strong during this period, with a large rotation of cabinets. This pseudo-parliamentary system was terminated with the 1925 Constitution which declared uncompatible the charges of ministers with parliamentary offices and made the approval of the Ley de Presupuestos automatic, which included the organization of the state income, if the Congress did not approve it after a while. It also enacted the election of the President at universal direct suffrage.

Political structure and electoral practices

The main parties between 1891 and 1925 included, from right to left, the Conservative Party, close to the Roman Catholic Church; various liberal groups in the center belonging to the National Party (aka Monttvarista after Manuel Montt and Antonio Varas), the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democratic Party (or Balmacedista); and on the left the Radical Party and the Democrat Party. At the end of the 1910s, the Socialist Workers' Party, associated with the labour movement, began to gain some importance.

These parties allied themselves either in the Coalition, grouping the Conservative Party and the liberals, or in the Liberal Alliance, composed by the liberals and the Radical Party.

As opposed to the Conservative Republic (1831-1861) or the Liberal Republic (1861-1891), the executive power did not interfere in the elections as it did through intendants, governors and inspectors. Elections were organized by the municipalities of Chile, held by various local caudillos. Bribes, electoral fraud, stealing of ballot boxes were frequent in rural zones.

Social groups

Three main social classes composed the Parliamentary Republic: the oligarchy, the middle classes and the working classes.

The aristocracy was formed by the landlords, politics, saltpeter entrepreneurs (many of whom were foreigners), bankers, physicians, intellectuals, etc. They were used to live in neoclassic palaces or mansions, following European fashion, etc. The oligarchy, however, was internally divided on some points, explaining the many parties and the two main shifting alliances, with the liberals joining either the Conservative Party or the Radical Party.

The working classes were formed by saltpeter workers, industrial workers and workers in public works, as well as landless peasants. The first lived in the North, in huts in Calamina, with differences of temperature between the day and the night going till 30 degree Celsius. Others workers lived in conventillos (dormitories) or in round quarters (pieces without windows nor light). Peasants lived in ranchs. All worked without contract, between 12 to 16 hours daily, without Sunday pause. Some where paid by company scrips.

The economy of saltpeter

Saltpeter was the main resource of Chile and all of the economy revolved around it. A third of the profits of saltpeter were taken by foreigners, another by the state, which obtained it by taxing exports, and the last third was used to re-invest in the saltpeter mines. The state used the income brought by saltpeter to build infrastructures in the country.

Presidents of the Parliamentary Republic

The charge of Vice-President was exerced as an interim by the Minister of Interior if the President died.

Alm. Jorge Montt Alvarez (1891 - 1896)

Federico Errazuriz Echaurren (1896 - 1901)

German Riesco Errazuriz (1901 - 1906)

Pedro Montt Montt (1906 - 1910)

Elias Fernandez Albano (1910 as Vice-President)

Emiliano Figueroa Larrain (1910 as Vice-President)

Ramon Barros Luco (1910 - 1915)

Juan Luis Sanfuentes (1915 - 1920)

Arturo Alessandri Palma (1920 - 1924)

September Junta and January Junta (1924-25)

Arturo Alessandri Palma (1925 - 1925)


Castedo, Leopoldo (1999) Chile: Vida y muerte de la Republica Parlamentaria (De Balmaceda a Alessandri)

Donoso, Ricardo Alessandri, agitador y demoledor. Cincuenta anos de historia politica de Chile.

Edwards, Alberto (1976) La fornda aristocratica. Historia de Chile.

Eyzaguirre, Jaime Chile durante el gobienro de Errazuriz Echaurren 1896-1901.

Heise, Julio (1974) Historia de Chile. El periodo parlamentario 1861-1925

Vial, Gonzalo (1981) Historia de Chile (1891).


The original version of this article draws heavily on the [[:es:Republica Parlamentaria (Chile)|corresponding article]] in the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of 4 May 2007.

See also

History of Chile

Saber noise incident of 1924

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