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.
The new law also introduces quotas to increase the participation of women in Congress. Each party entering an election must ensure that no more than 60 percent of its candidates are just one gender. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, less than 16 percent of lower house politicians and 18 percent of senators in Chile are women, ranking it 93rd worldwide.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo called the electoral reform vote an important step forward. “After 25 years this allows us to end an electoral system that was unique in the world and which has much done much damage to Chilean democracy,” he said.
The new law will use a more proportional system to elect politicians, at the same time as increasing the numbers of members of both houses.