A survey released this Thursday placed Chile’s long-controversial binominal electoral system under further scrutiny after revealing that 63.2% of respondents are in favour of electoral reform, while only 24.6% wish to keep the binominal system as is.
The survey, by El Mostrador and Universidad Mayor, asked a sample of 1.000 people of their opinions on the binominal system, of which 63.4% also believed that reform would improve the quality of democracy in Chile.
“Generally, people perceive the binominal system as one where nobody loses,” Francisco Diaz, senior researcher at Cieplan, said. “People wonder what value their vote has.”
Chile’s unique binominal system is the constitutional swan song of the Pinochet dictatorship, installed in 1989 to ensure the political right was well represented during the transition to democracy.
The system sees two deputies elected to each of Chile’s 60 districts and two senators elected to each of its 19 constituencies, resulting in a National Congress of 120 deputies and 38 senators.
In Chile’s congressional elections, the majority candidate takes the first seat, with the runner up allotted the second. However, candidates are forced to run in pairs from the same electoral coalition, and two candidates from the same coalition can only win both seats if their coalition received at least twice as many total votes as the competing one. This means that a coalition receiving 65% of the vote in a district wins one of the two positions, while the second place coalition, which received 35%, also wins a position.
This system sees that the two most powerful coalitions - Concertación on the left and Alianza on the right - almost always win a seat each in a voting area.
Supporters of the system claim that it fosters political stability, prevents the creation of populist regimes common to Latin America and ensures representation of the large minority.
Critics, on the other hand, argue that the system has a negative impact on representation, in that the large minority and majority receive an equal stake in an electoral outcome. The system has also been criticized for engendering competition among members of the same coalition, rather than between rival coalitions.
Parties across the political spectrum have called for change, but President Sebastián Piñera has not made electoral reform a priority, choosing not to mention it in his latest “Presidential Message” this month, much to the dismay of those in favour of reform.
Despite the relative dominance of Concertación and Alianza politicians in Congress, independents have managed to enter the political arena and some, like Sen. Carlos Cantero, have taken strongly to the cause of disposing with the binominal system.
“This teaches us, once again, that we are removed from the voice of the people,” Cantero said in response to the survey. “This is a civil outcry that the imposed system does not represent them and neither do we.”
By Angus McNeice - The Santiago Times