Chilean electoral reform

The electoral reform in Chile has been approved. As is to be expected in such processes, the final version is a bit different than what had been proposed back in 2013 when we first discussed the Chilean electoral reform.

The size of the Chamber of Deputies will be increased from 120 to 155, and the chamber will be redistricted to have 28 districts (currently there are 60). This means a mean magnitude of 5.5; the range will be 3-8. This is a very substantial change from the current system, in which all districts elect just two.

The Senate is also being increased in size from 38 elected members to 50. The fifteen regions will constitute electoral districts, leading to an average district magnitude of 3.3 (range of 2-5).

The D’Hondt method is retained, as are the open lists.

There will be a gender quota concerning nominations: neither men nor women can constitute more than 60% of the candidates on a list.

The first link above offers detail (in Spanish) about the debates and votes on specific provision, as well as which communes will be in which chamber district, and the district magnitudes for both chambers.

38 thoughts on “Chilean electoral reform

  1. Chile is going to have a moderate district magnitude for it’s lower house. How will the parties operate for the next election? Does the size increase go far enough? 155 members is a good size. Will the districts be continually redrawn or will the district magnitude be adjusted?


    • Regarding the staggered terms, the review of the bill’s provisions indicates that Senates from even-numbered regions and the Santiago Metro area who were elected in 2013 will serve their eight-year terms. The new district magnitudes for the Senate come in to effect in 2017 only for the odd-numbered regions. So for the 2013-17 2017-21 period, this implies some very odd representation by which some regions continue to have only two senators while some others will have more than two. (I should note that five of the fifteen regions will continue to have just two, even after 2017.)

      Under the current electoral system for the Senate, most regions are their own (two-seat) senate district, but some are divided: for example, Santiago and Valparaiso have two districts each. Under the new plan, Santiago gets M=5 in one district and Valparaiso also becomes a single 5-seat district. Santiago gets its representation renewed only 2021, but Valparaiso will get its fifth senator in 2017.

      (I hope I got that right; it is a little confusing!)


      • For a non-federal country, the Senate remains very malapportioned (Regarding the Chamber, I have not dug into its districting and apportionment yet).

        I’m surprised the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, as the biggest region (40% of population), ends up even more underrepresented (from 4/38 to 5/50). In the Chamber version of the bill Santiago got 7 seats (while Antofagasta and Los Ríos ony got 2 seats). There seems to be no rule behind both apportionment schemes.

        (Two corrections: Maule, Biobío and Araucanía also have two two-seat districts each; they also become a single 5-seat district each. – The 2017-2021 Senate will be the mix of old and new delegations, not 2013-2017)


  2. And at long last, Chile’s electoral reform is a reality: President Michelle Bachelet signed yesterday into law the reform bill reinstating PR for Chilean congressional elections, just days after the the South American country’s Constitutional Court rejected an eleventh-hour challenge from the right-wing opposition parties (which seemingly stand the most to lose from the reform in the first place); La Tercera has more information in Spanish here.


    • Thank you Manuel. I guess it was a closer call than I realized. Just this week I told my undergrad students that the reform had been enacted. I may have been a little ahead of the story, but it is a relief to know it has gone ahead!


  3. How powerful is Chile’s Senate? Does it have equal power with the lower house? Isn’t its functions redundant compared to the lower house?

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  7. The first round of Chile’s presidential election took place today, alongside legislative elections and those for local government. While legislative elections, as usual, got much less profile (I couldn’t find any public polling at all for them), they are nonetheless quite interesting.

    At present, with about 90% of votes counted, the runoff will be between the right-wing Jose Antonio Kast, who has 28% of the vote, and left-winger Gabriel Boric, who has 25%. The centre-right candidate, Sebastian Sichel (whose coalition is basically the same as incumbent president Pinera’s), has 12%, and the centre-left candidate, Yasna Provaste (whose coalition overlaps with the pre-2013 Concertacion) has 11%.

    However, in the legislative election, the story seems to be more complex. In the Senate, for some reason I’m not fully across, Kast’s coalition ran candidates only in a fraction of the districts. Here, with 68% counted, the centre-right coalition has won 28% of the vote to 20% for Boric’s left-wing coalition, 17% for the centre-left, 9% for the centrist-seeming People’s Party and only 7% for Kast’s coalition. In the Chamber, where Kast’s coalition ran in almost every district, with 55% counted, the centre-right has 26% to 19% for the centre-left, 19% for Boric’s coalition, 11% for Kast’s, and 9% for the People’s Party. For the Chamber, this produces an effective number of political parties of 6.

    There seems to be a not insignificant level of ticket-splitting leading to this result. For example, in Antarctica, Kast secured 72% of the vote, but his legislative coalition won just 20%.


  8. I will re-post this here below.

    It looks like the Left/Center Left has a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but the Senate is a bit more divided and could go either way. I hope that this election doesn’t lead Chile to a minority Presidency, where Kast wins, but the Left/Center Left has a majority, this could lead to gridlock.

    Is the Constitutional Convention considering moving Chile from a Presidentialist system to semi-Presidential by introducing a Prime Minister? Will Chile abolish the 2 round system to elect the President towards a Irish/Australian Preferential Vote system?

    Will Chile move from Bicameralism toward Unicameralism?


    • It’s an extremely long and detailed text, and from the polling I have seen, it just might be defeated in the upcoming referendum on whether to adopt this as Chile’s new constitution. That would be quite an indictment of the entire process the country has been through.

      As for the second chamber in the proposed constitution, my understanding is that it will have significantly reduced powers. (I have not read any of the document yet myself.)


      • Part of the issue on the polling is that a lot of it was influenced by both misinformation campaigns during the Constitutional Convention as well as concerns over even more progressive proposals which ultimately weren’t adopted. Polling has tightened significantly (moved in favor of Approve) since the finalization of the proposal in early July, and it’s quite likely it’s still tightening, although it may have started at too much of a disadvantage to recover. Another factor has been attempts by the Attorney General to prevent the president from openly campaigning in favor of Approve, while opponents have not really faced similar restrictions (although, given Boric’s approval ratings, I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes).

        Liked by 1 person

      • So I’ve gone over Chile’s proposed new constitution – all 388 articles and most of the interim provisions – and I must say it’s a very ambitious document, perhaps too much so: enforcing many of the rights enshrined therein would be no trivial task even in a Nordic nation, never mind Chile itself. And I say that without losing sight of the fact that Chile is one of Latin America’s most developed countries, both politically and economically.

        The influence of Spain’s 1978 constitution is quite evident from the beginning, which should come as no surprise, as Spain’s transition to constitutional democracy, after decades of dictatorial rule, took place precisely during Chile’s (and South America’s) darkest hour, and to many that process stood out a beacon of hope for a better future. That said, the Spanish constitution of 1978 was the product of a broad consensus among left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, meant to be acceptable to all sides. However, Chile’s proposed constitution reminds me more of Spain’s ill-fated Second Republic constitution of 1931, in that despite its good intentions, it comes across as a constitution of the left, for the left and by the left, written in a style of ostentatious political correctness guaranteed to antagonize the right. And to be clear, I’m all for inclusiveness, especially when it comes to the indigenous peoples, who have been given short shrift for far too long; but there’s a better way to do it, and it’s nowhere to be seen in the proposed constitution. All the same, it’s undeniably democratic in nature, and allegations that it will place Chile on the path to left-wing tyranny are utter nonsense.

        At any rate, it appears Chilean voters will reject the new constitution in the upcoming September 4 referendum, possibly by a narrow margin. But even if that happens constitutional reform discussions are expected to continue, with news reports indicating that even the mainstream right is receptive to the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Then it is even more curious for the new constitution to worsen the malapportionemnt of the upper house (from an ad hoc allocation now to every region 3 seats)


        • Thanks for slogging through it all, Manuel!

          Regarding Steven’s point on worsening senate malapportionment, isn’t the Senate’s power significantly reduced? That is a tradeoff I’d gladly make!


        • Article 270 leaves no doubt as to the subordinate role of the Chamber of Regions:

          Artículo 270

          Las leyes deberán ser aprobadas, modificadas o derogadas por la mayoría de los miembros presentes en el Congreso de Diputadas y Diputados al momento de su votación.
          En caso de tratarse de una ley de acuerdo regional, la Presidencia del Congreso enviará el proyecto aprobado a la Cámara de las Regiones para continuar con su tramitación.
          Terminada la tramitación del proyecto en el Congreso de Diputadas y Diputados, será despachado a la Presidenta o al Presidente de la República para efectos de su promulgación o devolución.

          However, Article 268 stipulates that regional agreement laws (“leyes de acuerdo regional”) include those pertaining to constitutional reform; taxes; the budget; urban and territorial planning; and environmental protection, among others.

          Note as well Articles 271 and 273:

          Artículo 271

          Las leyes referidas a la organización, el funcionamiento y los procedimientos del Poder Legislativo y de los Sistemas de Justicia; a los procesos electorales y plebiscitarios; a la regulación de los estados de excepción constitucional; a la regulación de las organizaciones políticas; y aquellas que regulen a la Contraloría General de la República, a la Defensoría del Pueblo, a la Defensoría de la Naturaleza, al Servicio Electoral, a la Corte Constitucional y al Banco Central deberán ser aprobadas por el voto favorable de la mayoría de los integrantes en ejercicio del Congreso de Diputadas y Diputados y de la Cámara de las Regiones.

          Artículo 273

          En la sesión siguiente a su despacho por el Congreso de Diputadas y Diputados y con el voto favorable de la mayoría, la Cámara de las Regiones podrá requerir conocer de un proyecto de ley que no sea de acuerdo regional.
          La Cámara contará con sesenta días desde que recibe el proyecto para formularle enmiendas y remitirlas al Congreso. Este podrá aprobarlas o insistir en el proyecto original con el voto favorable de la mayoría. Si dentro del plazo señalado la Cámara no evacúa su informe, el proyecto quedará en condiciones de ser despachado por el Congreso.

          Liked by 1 person

        • So I have a very un-woke question. Do we now have to refer to it as “Congreso de Diputadas y Diputados”? That’s a rather cumbersome name. Might have been a good opportunity to change it to “Congerso de Representantes.” That would seem to be gender neutral. On the other hand, I note “Presidenta o Presidente”; I have heard “Presidenta” before, but couldn’t “Presidente” be grammatically either gender?


        • Well, if the academy says…

          (I assume you meant to type “Representantas” for one of those, but auto-correct resisted! I also further assume that this term is not actually in common use in the wider Spanish-speaking world at this point, at least.)

          As a matter of grammatical gender, am I correct that the -e ending could be feminine, or does it seem masculine to any native speaker? My presumption that it could be either may be influenced by my study of Latin long ago. It looks rather like a third declension noun (various possible endings and genders), rather than first (-a and usually feminine) or second (-us [-o in the ablative] and usually masculine).


        • Actually, it’s “representante” irrespective of gender. The word “representanta” does exist in Spanish, but it means theater actress and it’s fallen in disuse. Also, here in Puerto Rico female members of the Commonwealth House of Representatives, the U.S. House an state lower houses have been always referred to as “la(s) representante(s).”

          Liked by 1 person

        • There’s now an English translation of the document that’s not done by Google Translate, which is available here (or, rather, I’ve put it there since access to the original required entering an email address).

          The Chamber of the Regions is on an unusual electoral cycle – elections are held three years into the Presidential term, at the same time as regional elections. I believe a proposal to elect regional assemblies and the Chamber with a fused ballot was defeated at the Convention.

          Manuel, to your understanding, do Article 272 and related articles provide for any override mechanism on the part of the Congress of Deputies for laws of regional agreement? I remember this also being discussed during the constituent process, but am not sure if it made it to the final draft. My guess would be no on the basis that there’s no explicit mechanism for a law within the purview of the Chamber being presented to the President without agreement from the Chamber.


    • My word processor makes that 54,250 words. That’s only 37.06% of the word count for India and 84.12% of the word count for Brazil. Roman law countries, particularly in Latin America, tend to have longer constitutions. This is unfortunate because, as we all know, terse constitutions like the US are entirely free of any kind of ambiguity. Oh wait…


        • Before 1945 most constitutions did not provide:

          a theory of state
          a catalogue of rights
          an electoral system

          Thus the Australian constitution 1900 does not mention democracy, human rights, representative government, ministerial responsibility to parliament, the cabinet, the prime minister or (until 1977) political parties. A Martian reading the document on its face would probably think the country is run by Queen Victoria through the governor-general. The Canadian constitution 1867 only mentions the supreme court indirectly.

          Constitutions began getting longer because, largely as a reaction to the democratic collapse in Germany and other European countries in the 1920s and 30s, it was thought necessary to make the things I mentioned explicit. Since roughly 1980 it has become common to provide for independent constitutional institutions such as electoral commissions, judicial commissions, ombudspersons, auditors-general, human rights commissions, and for bills of rights that are much more expansive than those adopted than in the 1940s.

          If adopted the Chilean draft would still be shorter than the constitutions of Brazil and Mexico and would not be an outlier for constitutions written since 1980.

          Liked by 1 person

        • The median length of a constitution enacted since 1980 is actually only about 15,000 words, according to the Comparative Constitution Project’s dataset – in fact, the median length of a constitution enacted before then is slightly longer, at 17,200 words. If you restrict the sample in this way, Chile’s proposed constitution remains the fifth longest of 128 constitutions enacted since 1980.

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  9. Was the Weimar Constitution too vague? I remember it had a lot of features that contradict itself? Interestingly enough it’s mixture of parliamentarianism and presidentialism is unique, but those features contradict themselves and I just answer my question, I hope.


    • I’m not sure what was “unique” about the Weimar constitution. On some level, almost every national constitution is unique. But in terms of broad provisions, Weimar was one of several president-parliamentary constitutions devised in its era and subsequently, and its emergency and other measures have echoes elsewhere as well.

      I think, on its own terms, it was pretty coherent. It was a flawed design, but based on some principles that probably made sense in the context of their times.

      Whether or not there were provisions that hastened its demise (I am not sure of that conventional wisdom), I do not see its provisions or experience as really unique.


      • To be clear, I think it had provisions that exacerbated rather than dampened conflict. I just would have a hard time believing that some better designed constitution could have prevented the rise of the Third Reich.


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