Chile assimilates historic poll results, opens debate on mandatory voting

Santiago, May 18 (EFE).- Chile’s historic constituent elections unleashed a political earthquake unparalleled in its democracy, the results of which it continued to assimilate Tuesday with an open debate on returning to the mandatory voting due to low turnout.

The poll results are significantly impacting the presidential race, as the date on which the parties will have to define which candidates they present in the November general elections and which alliances they will establish is approaching.

The uneasiness is especially felt in the right-wing parties of the ruling coalition, as they are the big losers, not having reached the necessary third to veto projects within the constituent body that will draft the new Constitution over one year.

Of the 155 seats in the constituent body (distributed equally between men and women), independents will occupy 48; the divided opposition of the center and the left, 53; the right, 37, and indigenous peoples, 17.

“It has been unexpected for political parties and for analysts. It is an unprecedented change in Chilean politics since the return to democracy,” said Claudia Heiss, a political scientist from the University of Chile.

The historic and opposition Christian Democracy (DC) also denounced the poor results in the elections. DC presidential candidate, Ximena Rincón, on Tuesday presented her candidacy for the party and called on the president of the Senate, Yasna Provoste, who gained great popularity in recent months to present herself as well but Provoste refused.

Despite the importance of the elections, participation over the weekend was far from the 50.1 percent registered in last October’s referendum when almost 80 percent of those voted to bury the legal framework of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. That poll saw the largest turnout since voting became no longer mandatory in 2012.

Since then, no election has exceeded 50 percent and the lowest figure was registered in the 2016 municipal elections, when only 34.9 percent of the electoral roll voted. In the last two presidential elections (2013 and 2017), turnout in the second round was close to 49 percent.

Of the 14.9 million Chileans summoned this weekend, only 43.3 percent (6.5 million) exercised their right and the influx to the polls was much higher in wealthy neighborhoods, mainly in Santiago.

“Voluntary voting encourages socioeconomic biases and perpetuates inequalities,” said the director of the Tres Quintos consultancy, Kenneth Bunker, who explained that older adults with better education and economic position tend to vote more, so their interests are overrepresented in institutions.

For Federica Sánchez Staniak, a political scientist at the Alberto Hurtado University, “the mandatory nature of voting will generate greater participation, but overcoming the crisis of disaffection in Chile will take much more work because it is a serious problem with deep roots.”

“A possible starting point is mandatory voting with effective sanctions and civic education. And patience because creating the habit of voting takes time,” she added. EFE


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