Augusto Pinochet left the scene as Chile’s dictator 25 years ago, but the electoral system he bequeathed has governed politics ever since. Under the country’s unique “binominal” system, each parliamentary constituency has two seats; the winning candidate takes one and in most cases the runner-up takes the other. This has reserved nearly all the seats in parliament for two big coalitions, the centre-left New Majority (to which the president, Michelle Bachelet, belongs) and the centre-right Alliance. The system has brought Chile stability at the expense of diversity. It kept small parties out of parliament unless they joined one of the two big coalitions, and ruled out landslide victories by either side. Moreover, it has tended to over-represent the Alliance at the expense of New Majority. Rural areas, which had supported Pinochet, were given more weight than their populations warranted.
Chile looks set to make major changes to its electoral system so it will better represent voters’ wishes and ensure more women participate in politics, an issue close to the heart of center-left President Michelle Bachelet. After an all-night debate, the Senate on Wednesday morning gave the green light to Bachelet’s electoral reform bill, with the support of two opposition senators. The bill is expected to easily pass in the lower house and then be signed into law. The vote overturns a byzantine electoral system introduced by dictator Augusto Pinochet before he departed from power that has effectively excluded parties that do no belong to one of two leading coalitions and prevented either coalition from winning a significant majority in Congress. Pinochet, who ruled the South American country from 1973-1990, intended to ensure conservative parties retained a strong voice after the return to democracy.
President Michelle Bachelet is determined to make Chile’s democracy more representative, and for the first time in a quarter century, there may be just enough votes in Congress to achieve it. Bachelet wants to end an electoral system that has squeezed out independent candidates and guaranteed an outsized presence in Congress for the center-right coalition ever since the end of the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990. The system distorts the vote by giving half the seats in each district to the trailing coalition as long as it gets at least a third of the votes. In practice, that has meant many elections are decided behind closed doors, with the center-left and center-right blocs hand-picking candidates to ensure neither side will get its way in Congress. Pinochet also did away with proportional districts, which denied equal representation for people living in Chile’s biggest cities. “Let’s call things what they are: The binomial system is a thorn pounded into the center of our democracy. It’s a system that owes its life to the dictatorship and that has perpetuated itself through exclusion,” Bachelet said Wednesday as she signed the proposal, which now will be debated in Congress.
Michelle Bachelet’s landslide victory was the largest in 80 years and yet, at the same time was the lowest voter turnout since the nation of Chile returned to democracy. According to some political pundits, this suggests that Bachelet will not get a mandate to push for any type of change when she begins her second term in 2014. A moderate advocate of socialist government, Bachelet ended her first term in 2010 with an approval rating of 84 percent in spite of the fact that she was unwilling to enact any type of major change. However, with this victory, political leftists in Chile are expected to hold Bachelet accountable to make good on her promises. Some of these include improving health care, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, and pushing a $15 billion program for the purposes of educational overhaul. Economically, Chile is the pride of Latin America. It is the top exporter of chrome worldwide and boasts a rapidly growing economy, a stable democracy and low unemployment rates. However, in the country itself, there has been much unrest as many have believed that there should be more of the nations wealth used for reform of the educational system and income disparity.
Chile’s once and future leader Michelle Bachelet easily won Sunday’s presidential runoff, returning center-left parties to power by promising profound social changes in response to years of street protests. Bachelet won 62 percent of the vote, the most decisive victory in eight decades of Chilean elections. Her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei only got 37 percent of the vote and conceded defeat in the worst performance for the right in two decades. Bachelet needs the momentum of her resounding victory to strengthen her mandate and try to overcome congressional opposition to fulfill her promises.
The Chilean government on Monday rejected allegations of irregularity in November 17 general elections, which involved the possible fraudulent registration of supporters for two independent candidates who had lost. “We don’t question the election, because everybody knows there are agencies and time limits for disputing candidacies, and that did not happen in the case of the two said candidates,” said government spokeswoman Cecilia Perez. The election results “cannot be challenged, there are no reasons to do so,” Perez said, adding any complaint should have been presented to the Electoral Tribunal (Tricel) earlier. A press report over the weekend questioned whether independent candidates Franco Parisi and Tomas Jocelyn Holt, who obtained 10 percent and 0.16 percent of the votes, respectively, obtained the minimum 35,000 signatures they needed to run.
Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her closest rival in Chile’s presidential election Sunday, but she fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a Dec. 15 runoff. With more than 92% of votes counted, the moderate socialist Bachelet had nearly 47%, to 25% for conservative Evelyn Matthei. Seven other candidates trailed far behind. Bachelet predicted she would win big in the second round and push forward major social reforms. “We’re going to have a decisive and strong victory that backs up the transformation program that we have been building,” she said. Matthei’s campaign celebrated getting another try at Bachelet, this time in a one-on-one race. “Going into a second round is certainly a triumph,” an exultant Matthei told supporters.