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Chile - Elections 1993

Chile is a constitutional democracy, and citizens now have the right to change their government through periodic elections. There is universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age or over, and more than 95 percent of those eligible are registered to vote. Voting is compulsory for those who register.

The former military government wrote the 1980 Constitution and amended it slightly in 1989 after General Pinochet lost a referendum to stay in office. It pro vides for a strong presidency and a legislative branch with more limited powers. The President has the authority to designate the “urgency” of bills and to determine time limits for Congress to consider them. In addition, the Constitution includes provisions designed to protect the interests of the military and the political right and, according to its defenders (and even some critics), to provide stability in the political process and encourage the formation of large coalitions.

The center-left coa lition which governed Chile in 1993 accepted the legitimacy of the 1980 Constitution but sought to amend elements characterized as “authoritarian enclaves” left over from the previous regime. These included limitations on the President's right to remove chiefs of the armed forces, an electoral system that gave the political opposition a disproportionate representation in Congress, and the existence of nonelected “institutional senators” who deprive the governing coalition of sun elected majority in the Senate.

Elections were held 11 December 1993 all the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and for one-half of the elective seats in the Senate on the normal expiry of the members’ term of office. President-elect Frei won the biggest majority in modern Chilean history, cap turing 58 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race, but Chile's unique binomial system allowed the rightist opposition to pick up strength in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

The 1993 congressional elections coincided with those for President of the Republic. Main contestants to succeed Patricio Aylwin Azócar (Christian Democratic Party – PDC), elected to this post in 1989 for a transitional four-year term of office, were Senator Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, from the same party and son of former President (from 1964 to 1970) Eduardo Frei Montalva, and Arturo Alessandri Besa, an independent backed by the Union for Progress (UPC) coalition and for his part a presidential offspring. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle won the presidency representing, like his predecessor, the centre-left Coalition for Democracy (CPD) comprising the PDC, the Socialist Party (PS), the Party for Democracy (PPD), the Democratic Left Party (PDI) and the Radical Party (PR).

The political parties fielding congressional candidates were grouped into four lists but only the ruling CPD and the opposition, right-wing UPC (made up of the National Renewal Party (RN), Independent Democratic Union (UDI), Centrist Union (UCC) and other conservative parties) were successful. The other two lists were those of the Alternative Democratic left (Alternativa Democrática de Izquierda), mainly made up of members of the Communist Party, and the New Left (La Nueva Izquierda).

The electoral campaign was generally regarded as lacklustre, with no outstanding issues or great controversy. Frei, running under the banner of “new times”, set as priorities the fight against poverty and improving health and education, and indicated that he would pursue the free-market economic policies of the outgoing President (ineligible for re-election).

While polling results gave Frei a landslide victory, the balance of power in Congress remained virtually unchanged, with the CPD triumphant in both Houses but still failing short of the two-thirds majority in Congress required to effect constitutional changes. However, important shifts took place within each of the two major opposing camps: a swing to the left within the CPD and Deputies’ losses by the mainstream RN (nevertheless compensated by gains in the Senate). As four years earlier, the CPD did not obtain an automatic Senate edge, since the eight Senators appointed in 1989 remain in office until 1997.

In accordance with the wishes of the President-elect, an agreement was reached between the two major party coalitions in order to reduce the presidential term of office from eight to six years. This reform was approved by the Congress on 13 February 1994. President Frei took office on 11 March 1994 and his CPD Cabinet was sworn in the same day.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:53:05 ZULU