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Chile - Elections 1997

Chile is a multiparty democracy with a constitution that provides for a strong executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. Approved by referendum in 1980 and amended in 1989, the Constitution was written under the former military government and establishes institutional limits on popular rule. President Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, began his 6-year term in 1994. The National Congress comprises 120 deputies and 47 senators. The government coalition of six parties held a majority in the lower house. An opposition coalition, together with several independent and eight appointed senators, controlled the upper chamber. Under the Constitution, former president General Augusto Pinochet must retire from the army by March 11, 1998. He may then assume his lifetime seat in the Senate, which he had announced he would do. General Pinochet's appointees continued to influence the constitutionally independent judicial branch. However, turnover in the courts has led to a significant diminution of that influence.

The Constitution included provisions designed to protect the interests of the military and the rightwing political opposition. These provisions include limitations on the President's right to remove military service chiefs, including chief of the army (the position General Pinochet can hold until March 11, 1998); an elec toral system that gives the second-place party (or coalition) in each district disproportionate representation in Congress; and the provision for nonelected institutional senators. The Government pledged to amend these provisions, which it saw as "authoritarian enclaves" left over from the previous regime; the opposition pledged to fight to retain what it views as important checks and balances in the system of government.

The over one million indigenous people had the legal right to participate freely in the political process, although relatively few are politically active. Only one member of Congress is of indigenous descent. The National Corporation for Indigenous Development was created in 1994, and indigenous people directly elected representatives to this body in 1995. It advises and directs government programs that assist the economic development of indigenous people.

Elections were held 11 December 1997 for all the seats in the Chamber of Deputies on the normal expiry of the members' term of office. Of the five lists and 11 parties vying for seats in the 1997 mid-term congressional elections, the leading contestants were the ruling Coalition for Democracy (CPD) and the main opposition Union for Chile Pact (PUC). Also in the running were the Left List, the Humanist Party and the Chile 2000 Pact. Altogether 521 candidates competed for the 120 Chamber of Deputies seats and 70 for the 20 Senate seats at stake.

The campaign was generally lacklustre, marked by voter apathy. President of the Republic Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (Christian Democratic Party - PDC) urged citizens to cast their votes in support of his Government so as to let us continue to do our work ; this included continued pursuit of free-market economic policies.

Of the votes cast on polling day, a large percentage were invalid. Final results gave the center-left CPD - in power since 1990 and made up of the PDC, the Party for Democracy (PPD), the Socialist Party (PS) and the Radical Party (PR) - continued command of the Lower House, whereas the right-wing PUC - comprising the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), the National Renewal (RN) and the Party of the South - maintained control of the Senate, owing to the eight appointed members in its ranks. These controversial Senators continued to sit despite repeated CPD calls to change the system and thus, in its eyes, clear the way for it to pass various reform measures.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:53:04 ZULU