Monday, October 27, 2008

Democracy in Chile

Considering that elections were just yesterday here in Chile, I thought I’d try to shed some light on the political parties in here and the voting procedures that are different from that of the States. I was very surprised to find out certain facts, such as voting takes place on a Sunday.

As far as political parties go in this country, there seem to be many more than in the States. However, I by no means claim to be an expert or knowledgeable about either country’s political parties. In the States, the big players are the Republicans and Democrats. I believe there are a handful of independent parties, but mostly the R&Ds rule the scene. Having been brought up to think these two are worlds apart, I have continually been confused by the number of political parties in Chile. Taken from the website, this is the clearest explanation of the situation here in English that I could find:

“Political parties: Major parties are grouped into two large coalitions:

1) the center-left "Concertacion", which includes the Christian Democrat Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy, and the Radical Social Democratic Party; and

2) the center-right "Alliance for Chile", which includes the National Renewal Party and the Independent Democratic Union.

The Communist Party joined the Humanistic Party and a number of smaller parties to form the "Together We Can" coalition in 2004, but none of these leftist parties have recently elected congressional representatives. A new center-left party, "Chile-First," was established in October 2007.”

According to what the US government publishes, there are 2 main divisions in Chile among the political parties, but some of the other sites that I found said that there are normally three clear divisions among the right, center and left. It is common to hear terms like socialism, communism, the right, the left, thrown around and every time I would ask what the party stood for, I normally received a very complicated answer. Sorry for my ignorance, but I never really know what socialism and communism meant. I now have a much better idea, but I was so surprised to find out that Democrats & Republicans really aren’t that different when put into the gamut of Chilean political parties. From what I understand, they both sit on center-right side, but never arrive at that right extreme. That was like revolutionary for me.

But what I find much more interesting about the Chilean democracy than its political parties is its voting system. Here are a few facts that I learned about this weekend:

  • Voting takes place on Sundays
  • Men and women must vote in separate places (we are talking completely separate buildings—I was not allowed inside the men’s voting location).
  • Speaking of men voting, we saw two cross-dressers with a ton of people filming them as they went to the men’s location to vote. Later in the day there was a news bit about it on the TV, because certain cross-dressers want to be able to vote in the women’s location.
  • Although it is voluntary to register to vote in Chile, if you do register, it is an obligation to actually go and vote. If you do not, the government will fine you.
  • There is no such thing as absentee ballots. You must go to the location that is assigned to you, wherever it is. If you registered in your hometown and the moved away, you may re-register or change your location but otherwise you would be required to vote at that hometown location.
  • The people who work at each location to give ballots, take names, etc. are randomly chosen to perform this service, similar to how we are chosen for jury duty in the States. Supposedly you’re only supposed to have to do it once, but my sister-in-law has done it like 3 times. Call time to be at the location is between 7am and 8am and each mesa (table, as they are called here) must be open for 8 hours straight. Then after they close the table, they must stay and count the votes.
  • If the people who are assigned to the mesas do not show up, the first person who arrives to vote is forced by law to replace the missing person and stay the whole day. Apparently there are a few exceptions of how to get out of this if you happen to really not be able to stay.


Disclaimer—La Chilengüita is a blog created upon my personal experiences and which expresses my personal opinion that in no way represents the views my employer, family or friends.