Chile ends Pinochet era electoral system
New system will allow greater female representation and more senators and deputies in the legislature

The largest reform of the Chile’s electoral system in a generation was approved Wednesday by the Senate, promising greater representation, more room for female candidates and smaller parties.

The bill, unveiled by President Michelle Bachelet last April, will end the binomial system imposed by military dictator Augusto Pinochet to ensure his right wing supporters were overrepresented in the country’s bicameral legislature.

"A substantial step has been taken to deepen our democracy as this reform encourages citizens to participate,” said government spokesman Alvaro Elizalde.

After 21 hours of debate, the government won the vote thanks to the support of two opposition senators. The bill must now receive final approval from the lower chamber of deputies where the administration enjoys an overall majority.

In Chile’s existing system, in place since the the country returned to democratic rule in 1990, each electoral district elects two candidates, ensuring that the forces of the two main blocs are largely balanced in Congress despite the fact that the right has never won more than a third of the popular vote.

Critics say that meant right wing parties, largely defenders of the neoliberal reforms of the Chilean economy imposed under the military regime, were not dismantled by successive democratic governments.

"The reform ends the absurd binominal in which two is equal to one, that with 30 percent of the vote earned 60 percent of the seats,” Elizalde said.

Under the government’s plan, the number of deputies will be increased from 120 to 155, to be elected from 28 districts that will have between three and eight representatives – depending on the size of its population –allowing more room to smaller parties.

The number of senators will be increased from 38 to 50.

The legislation also seeks to increase the level of female representation in Congress by requiring that no more 60 percent of a party’s candidates be of one gender.

"We hope that our democracy is strengthened and that there is room in Congress for new ideas and new leaderships, that is the aim of this bill,” said Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo.

Opponents of the bill, however, criticized plans to increase the size of the legislature despite public disapproval of lawmakers in recent polls.

The design of the new constituencies amounts to a made-to-measure suit for the needs for the parties in the governing New Majority coalition, some charged.

"Far from seeking to create a good law which benefits the country and democracy, the New Majority preferred to devise a strategy to seize the electoral booty which overwhelmingly favors its own candidates,” said Cristian Monckeberg, president of the right wing National Renewal party.

Last Modified: 2015-01-15 10:53:03
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