Elections in Chile

Emily Williams
  • By Emily Williams
  • January 20th, 2010

On Sunday, January 17, Chileans took to the polls to elect the next president. Businessman Sebastián Piñera Echenique beat out former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle with just under 52% of the vote. This victory marks the first time that a right-wing candidate has won an election in more than 50 years. More importantly, Piñera will be the first right-wing president under the democratic rule that followed Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990).

The ink on his thumb shows he just voted

The ink on his thumb shows he just voted

Can you tell who won?

Can you tell who won?

Of course the details of the election process are different from how elections work in the US. No electoral college and a second-round run-off if no candidate wins a majority in the first-round (held in December), for a start. A fellow Chile blogger has a great summary of the nuts and bolts of the process itself. I, however, would like to look at some of the little differences.

Ley seca – This literally means dry law. That’s right, no alcohol can be purchased from midnight the day of the election until the next day. Because elections are always on Sundays, this means that you’ve got to think ahead and stock up before your Saturday night parties. I don’t really see the point, to be honest. I can imagine they don’t want people showing up drunk to vote, but I can’t imagine that many people would buy alcohol on a Sunday morning anyway, and those who would just need to purchase slightly in advance.

The results come in so quickly! – I’m from California, but even so I’ll stay up plenty late on election night waiting for the results to roll in. I can’t imagine living on the East Coast waiting for the numbers from a time zone that’s three hours behind. I don’t know whether Chileans are more organized or what, but by 6pm the first calculation was out, and Piñera’s supporters were celebrating. US election officials, pay attention to this one.

They count all the votes on TV – I don’t really have a witty observation about this one, it was just funny to see the random people who’d been picked to be in charge of the voting locations (it’s like jury duty, just cross your fingers and hope you don’t get chosen) holding up each piece of paper for everyone to see and reading the name on it.

People write all sorts of things on their votes – A friend who once had to do voting location duty said that people don’t just write down their votes and call it a day. Comments range from poetry to diatribes against the political system. Almost makes it worth having to work the location!

Driving around the city honking is apparently THE way to celebrate – I’m not particularly happy or sad about the result. It was pretty clear that Piñera would win. Frankly the left-wing Concertación made the mistake the Democrats made back in 2004 – they thought they didn’t need a strong candidate to beat the right-wing and that any warm body would do, and they were wrong. But oh my god, if the Frei supporters are quiter then I wish he would have won! For HOURS after the results came in, people were driving around waving Piñera propaganda and Chile flags, HONKING. It’s like they all turned to each other and say “honey, we won – let’s grab the kids, get out the flag, and go for a drive!” Not something I’ve ever thought, I have to admit.

Although I was here in 2005 during the first round of the last election, this was my first run-off in Chile. And aside from the honking, it was pretty interesting. What are elections like where you live?

Emily Williams is a US gringa living in Santiago, Chile. She writes about expat life at AffordableCallingCards.net and on her personal blog, Don’t Call Me Gringa, and loves hearing from readers!

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I was also amazed at how fast the votes came in. This is not the norm at all. I really thought it would be a close race with calls for recounts and a long, dragged out process that would end at midnight if we were lucky. I couldn’t believe it was all over (except the noisy celebrations!) by 7:15 or so. The horn-honking went on just about as long as the voting process did!

January 21, 2010    Rate Comment

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