Election Resources on the Internet:
Presidential and Legislative Elections in Chile, Parts I and II
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
   

The Republic of Chile - which began its transition to democracy more than a quarter-century ago, when Chilean voters rejected extending the presidential mandate of General Augusto Pinochet in a referendum held on October 5, 1988 - held a general election on Sunday, November 17, 2013 and a presidential runoff vote on Sunday, December 15, 2013. A succession of popularly elected, civilian regimes have ruled the South American country since 1990, but some aspects of Pinochet's authoritarian legacy persisted for a long time, most notably among them the binomial electoral system, finally repealed in 2015 and described here, along with the new proportional representation system which replaces it starting in 2017; Chile's political party system will be reviewed in Part III of this presentation.

National-, regional- and (for the Senate and Chamber of Deputies) constituency- or district-level results are available here for the following presidential and legislative elections:

      November 17, 2013-December 15, 2013       President       Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 13, 2009-January 17, 2010       President       Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 11, 2005-January 15, 2006       President       Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 16, 2001               Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 12, 1999-January 16, 2000       President                      
      December 11, 1997               Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 11, 1993       President       Senate       Chamber of Deputies      
      December 14, 1989       President       Senate       Chamber of Deputies      

The election statistics presented in this space come from results published on the Interior Ministy's Historical Elections Site and (for 2013) the Electoral Qualifying Tribunal and the Electoral Service of Chile websites.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Constitution of 1980 - substantially amended in 1989 and 2005 - stipulates that Chile is a democratic republic, in which sovereignty rests essentially with the Nation, and is exercised by the people through the plebiscites and periodic elections, as well as by the authorities established by the Constitution. Voting is mandatory, except for foreigners with the right to vote.

The government and the administration of the State are vested in the President of the Republic, who is directly elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years (previously six years and originally eight years, except in 1989, when a four-year term was agreed upon as a temporary measure). The president, who may not be re-elected for the consecutive period, is chosen by an absolute majority of votes, not counting blank or void votes. If no candidate attains an absolute majority in the first round of voting, a second round is held between the two candidates with the largest number of votes, and the candidate that obtains a majority of valid votes is deemed elected.

The National Congress is composed of two houses, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, which concur in the making of laws in accordance with the Constitution.

Prior to the 2015 electoral reform, the Chamber of Deputies was composed of 120 members directly elected for a four-year term of office in sixty two-member districts, while the Senate's 38 members were directly elected for an eight-year term of office in nineteen two-member constituencies. Nonetheless, Senate elections were held every four years for approximately half of the seats; odd-numbered regions chose their senators during one period, while even-numbered regions and the Santiago Metropolitan Region held Senate elections in the following period.

As originally set forth by the Constitution of 1980, the Senate was to be composed of 35 members, of which 26 would be elected in thirteen two-member constituencies - Chile's then thirteen regions - and nine would be appointed by the Supreme Court, the National Security Council or the President of the Republic; in addition, former presidents who had served for at least six consecutive years would become lifetime senators. However, under the 1989 constitutional reform, each one of the six regions with at least 400,000 voters was divided into two constituencies, for a total of 47 members - 38 elected and nine appointed; a further constitutional reform in 2005 eliminated the latter seats, as well as those held by former presidents.

Each region had at least one Senate constituency, except the region of Arica and Parinacota, which shared a constituency with the region of Tarapacá (to which it previously belonged).

Political parties and coalitions of two or more parties submitted lists of up to two candidates in Chamber districts and Senate constituencies; independent candidates were allowed as well, but these had to be sponsored by citizens constituting at least 0.5% of the voters who cast ballots in the corresponding district or constituency. In each Chamber district or Senate constituency, voters chose one candidate in one list, and the list with the largest number of votes won two seats if it obtained more than twice as many votes as the list in second place; otherwise, the top two lists received one seat each. Within each list, mandates were assigned to candidates with the largest number of votes.

The electoral system used in Chilean legislative elections from 1989 to 2013 was known as the binomial system. It was in principle a proportional representation system - the procedure for allocating seats in binomial districts and constituencies was an implicit implementation of the largest average method (the D'Hondt rule) - but proportionality was limited to the top two lists, and the list in second place could attain fifty percent representation (one of two seats) with just over a third of the vote.

However, after 2017 the Chamber of Deputies will be composed of 155 members directly elected for a four-year term of office in twenty-eight districts with no fewer than three and no more than eight members each, while the Senate's 50 members will be directly elected for an eight-year term of office in fifteen constituencies - Chile's fifteen regions - with two to five members each. Nonetheless, Senate elections will continue to be held every four years for approximately half the seats; odd-numbered regions will choose their senators during one period (starting in 2017), while even-numbered regions and the Santiago Metropolitan Region will hold Senate elections in the following period (starting in 2021).

Political parties and coalitions of two or more parties will be able to submit lists in Chamber districts and Senate constituencies with as many candidates as there are seats to be filled, plus one. In each Chamber district or Senate constituency, seats will be apportioned according to the D'Hondt rule; within each list, mandates will be assigned to candidates with the largest number of votes.

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Copyright © 2008-2015 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: April 28, 2015.