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Sunday, November 17 marked Chile’s presidential elections. Leading up to this day, it was interesting for me to note the differences from our process.

Election Campaigns
1. No commercial advertising. The substance-lacking, exhaustive commercials we see every day for months on end don’t exist here. I’d love to see this in The States, especially since our commercials boil down to who has the most money… which is a deterrent to success for small/independent candidates.

2. Advertising allowed one month before the election, stopping 3 days beforehand. I love this. Primarily, it softens the impact of whoever has the most money, and, secondarily, it forces candidates to be more constructive with their messages. Not to mention the general public’s mental health.

3. Structured TV promotion. So, with no commercials and 1 month of advertising, how do they get their messages out there? In something called the franja, during this month, a 20 minute time space is blocked off across all TV channels so that all parties can give their proposals to the public. This occurs at 12:00 pm and 8:40 pm every weeknight and at 10:30 am and 8:40 pm on the weekends. Each party receives a certain amount of time to educate the public on their beliefs. Room for improvement exists – not all parties get equal time slots. Basically, if this were to the USA, the Democrats and Republicans would get more time than the independents. However, even given the weakness, I see so many positives in this method.

4. One term, although after a one term break you can run again. A positive with this is that politicians can’t spend their entire term campaigning for the next… which gives them time to do their jobs.

In general, just like in The States, there are TV debates, outdoor advertising, canvassing, etc. Billboards and street poles are covered in the typical political smiling faces. Through this, Chile is just like the USA and the person with the most money (personally and through corporate support) obviously has more resources out there… definitely room for improvement here.

Multiple parties – how it breaks down
There are many, many parties: 18 parties plus a couple of independents. Wow, so how does this work?! Basically, similar minded parties work together in the form of coalitions. In the beginning, any candidates from any party can run. If multiple parties within a coalition have candidates, primaries are held to elect the main representative from each coalition. This is like our primaries, except, instead of choosing who represents the Democrats, they choose who/what party represents that coalition.

That said, although there is a lot of potential for it to be a multiple player game, it currently is working like our 2 party system – there are 2 main coalitions just like how we have 2 main parties.

Main Coalitions – received 75% of the votes on Sunday

Alliance coalition: made up of 2 right-wing parties
New Majority coalition (winner): made up of 7 left-wing parties including the socialist, communist, and Christian democrat parties
Other Coalitions – received 25% of the votes on Sunday

If you want, Chile changes coalition: made up of 2 left-leaning parties
Everyone to La Moneda (ie: white house) coalition: made up of 2 left-leaning parties including the humanist party
New Constitution for Chile coalition: made up of 3 left-leaning parties including the ecological and equality parties
4 more other parties that are not part of coalitions
With multiple candidates running for president, there was much more challenging of the system and bringing up of the problems no one wants to talk about. This pushed those messages out there and ignited pressure from the public for accountability, transparency, and addressing of the issues. Like the US, Chile faces many problems with inequality in education, large and growing income gaps, and poverty… and the demand is growing that these problems be faced.

With 25% voting outside the main 2 candidates, it signals increasing dissatisfaction for the way the system is working (typical political games and lack of follow-through). Especially considering this is only Chile’s 6th presidential election after a 17 year dictatorship, I see this as a lot of promise for a better system in the future.

Random side notes

  • No alcohol is sold on election day… odd.
  • All stores (except mom and pop shops) are closed
  • There were active grassroots movements to amend the constitution and change the education system
  • 3 former-student leaders from these student revolutions were elected into congress

This is the first year voting was voluntary. Well, mandatory in the sense that if you registered in the month before, you had to vote. Now, all citizens are automatically registered and have the choice to vote or not. Results show the same number of people voted, but I am assuming the age, gender, and class makeup was much more diverse. And, voluntary is always better.
Chile’s system has many of the same faults as ours, and others, but I see a lot of positives, new ideas, and desire for improvement. I think the initiatives I mention here would be fantastic improvements to our campaign process.

Here is a link to some opinions of each of the representatives regarding typical problems such as crime and health care: