On December 13 of this year, a new presidential election will be held in Chile. There are both many differences and similarities between the electoral system in Chile and the US, and these are a few of them:
Election Day is usually held on a Sunday, so everyone can go and exercise their right to vote. In addition, every time elections are held, employers are obligated to give their employees, at least until noon, to go and vote. In that spirit, this year the congress passed a law that that says that everything should be closed until 2:00 PM.
The president’s term lasts four years with no immediate reelection. It used to be six, but since the last election was reduced to four. The president is elected through popular vote, and needs 50% + 1 to win the presidency, if that is not the case, a second election is organized the following month with the two greater majorities.
Chile also has a bi-nominal (two party) system but in its own unique way. There are two main party coalitions that are composed by smaller political parties. The two alliances are the Coalition for Change (Conservative) and the Coalition for Democracy (center-left) besides that, there are some other smaller parties joined under Juntos Podemos Más (Together we can do more) that include the Communist Party and the Allende’s Socialist Party.
The political campaigns on radio and TV are authorized to be aired a month before the election and they have to end two days before the voting day. The same goes for banners, posters and such. The TV campaigns are aired twice a day for 30 minutes.
The right to vote has a few conditions; being 18 years of age or older, being a Chilean citizen, or have lived continuously in Chile for five years (and have the appropriate documents to prove it), not being in prison (or have been in prison for more that 5 years and a day) and of course, having signed up in the electoral records.
Once you sign up at the electoral records you have the right to vote, but also, you have obligations as a citizen to vote. When you are part of the electoral records, you have to vote, if you don’t, there could be a fine or jail time. The only valid excuses not to vote are; being older than 70 years of age, being at a hospital, or at a distance greater than 187 miles from your assigned voting location. Another obligation is that you can be called to be a member of a voting table (a sort of scrutiny committee) and, unless there is a major reason to excuse yourself from it, you are obligated to participate in it. Almost like Jury duty.
This year election is to elect a new president, renew half the senate and all of the representatives. This time there are four candidates for the presidency, they are:
Jorge Arrate, the candidate of what is call the non-parliamentarian left. He worked during Salvador Allende’s government and is running his campaign based, in part, on the program and ideas of Salvador Allende. He has the support of Juntos Podemos Más. He is a member of the Allende’s Socialist Party-
Eduardo Frei, former Chilean President during the 1994-2000 period, his father was also President of Chile (1964-1970) and he is the candidate of the same coalition of Michelle Bachelet, the current president. He is a Christian Democrat.
Sebastian Piñera, a businessman who has been compared with Berluscuni in Italy and Aznar in Spain. He was a runner-up on the previous election. He is the candidate of the conservative parties in Chile.
Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a former member of the government coalition who decided to run as an independent. He tries to, somehow, bring together ideas from the left and right making him look ambivalent rather than a unifying element in politics.
Since this year I am not in Chile, I won’t be able to vote, because one thing we don’t have is absentee votes. Most right-wing congressmen are afraid of the fact that most Chileans abroad are Chileans that were exiled during the dictatorship and therefore would vote against them.