Chile 2017: First round

Chile has presidential and congressional elections 19 November. Unfortunately, an article at AS/COA does something that is far too common in media coverage of Latin American elections: It ignores the congressional elections.

That is especially unfortunate in this case, as this year’s elections in Chile are particularly interesting due to changes in the electoral systems for both houses of congress. (Details in a previous planting.)

The presidential election requires the leading candidate to obtain 50%+1 of the valid votes cast in Sunday’s first round. Otherwise, the top two advance to a runoff, which will take place on the 17th of December.This is the electoral system known as “two-round majority” or “majority runoff.”

As for the congressional electoral system, it remains open-list PR with D’Hondt divisors, as has been the case since the current democratic regime was established in the late 1980s. However, the seat product for the Chamber of Deputies has been increased moderately. Previously, it was 240 (120 assembly seats times 2 per district), which is a highly restrictive system. Now it will be 852.5 (155 seats times a new mean of 5.5 per district). That is only modestly proportional, but still a substantial increase. (For the central importance of the seat product, see Votes from Seats.)

The Senate seat product is also being increased, but only half that chamber is elected at a time, so the new system will not be fully implemented till four years hence.

The new systems (both houses) will create more political space both for minor parties and alliances that currently have few or no seats, and for the representation of more of the member parties in the alliances that already are a hallmark of the Chilean party system’s adaptation to the more restrictive system that has been in place. In the sense of being a system of open alliance lists, it is essentially the same allocation formula as in Finland and Brazil. The crucial difference is district magnitude–formerly two (the second lowest possible!) and now to be increased, although still well short of what those other two countries have–and, in comparison to Brazil, with a much smaller assembly size. [Click here for an important correction on the intra-list allocation.]

As shown in a table of polling trends for the presidential election (first link), there is more of a contest for second place and thus entry into the runoff than there is for first place. Former president Sebastián Piñera is leading but not likely to clear 50% of the valid vote. Two leftist candidates are vying to face him in the expected runoff.

It might not seem obvious, but the congressional electoral-system changes could be influencing presidential competition. In fact, that is one of the findings of Votes from Seats: We can predict the average trend in the “effective” number of presidential candidates from the assembly seat product. (This is in contrast to conventional “coattails” arguments that claim we can understand assembly-election fragmentation only by knowing how many viable presidential candidates there are.)

In the past in Chile, there was strong pressure for parties to coalesce in order to be viable participants in the highly restrictive congressional electoral system. While parties in a common alliance for assembly seats could run separate presidential candidates–see the 2005 case of unusual alliance behavior on the right–usually they would not. (And the 2005 case did not work out that well for the right, at least in the Chamber.)

Now, the pressure to join forces for assembly elections is reduced, which should be expected to push up the number of viable contenders for presidential-runoff slots as well. The candidates vying for that second slot are Beatriz Sánchez, backed by an alliance called the Broad Front (Humanist Party, Liberal Party, Green Ecologists, and others), and Alejandro Guiller, backed by Fuerza Mayoría (including the Socialist Party of the outgoing incumbent, Michelle Bachelet, as well as the Communists, Democrats, and others). Which one will make it, and how will it affect the left’s combined chances of blocking a victory for Piñera in the runoff? And how will the candidates help (or not) their alliances’ electoral process in the new congressional election?

30 thoughts on “Chile 2017: First round

  1. From an exchange I’ve had with someone at AS/COA on Twitter, as well as a minor edit, it seems also as if folks are confusing a turnout requirement and a share of valid votes needed to avoid a runoff.

    The article (as edited) reads:

    More than 50 percent: That’s the turnout rate needed, particularly with the divided left, for Guillier to stand a chance against Piñera in the second round. Even though the left-leaning candidates in the race have agreed to back whomever comes in second in Sunday’s first round, “the question is whether their voters will,” said Navia, who also noted that Guiller’s decision to distance himself from current President Michelle Bachelet could come with a political cost.

    It might be difficult to meet that turnout threshold for several reasons: voting isn’t compulsory in Chile…

    To be clear, a low turnout by itself can’t prevent someone from winning in the first round, although it might affect the percentages of the valid vote that each candidate obtains.

  2. My money is on a second round between Piñera and Guillier (boring, I know). Sánchez could very well beat Enríquez-Ominami’s 20% showing in 2009 though, which would be very interesting.

    Like you (I think!), I find the congressional races to be a lot more interesting. Considering how abysmally unpopular Bachelet is, the Nueva Mayoria might end up doing quite poorly. If so, it will be fascinating to see who fills the gap — and what effect that has on the party system! There are several new alliances that seem to be trying to do just that: Democratic Convergence (essentially the Christian Dems), Sumemos (a centrist coaltion), and the Broad Front (the same left/green coalition that’s supporting Sánchez).

  3. “an article at AS/COA does something that is far too common in media coverage of Latin American elections: It ignores the congressional elections.”
    This is really applicable to all presidential systems and many semi-presidential ones. Even in discourse regarding US elections you’ll often hear “the election” uttered and applied (including, in my experience, to deciding whether or not to turn out to vote) as if the ballot has nothing on it but candidates for president. Really, this should be enough to seriously call into question the presidential model’s ability to balance presidential and congressional leadership.

  4. The presidentialisation of elections is perhaps also to blame for the scarcity of mention in the media that the Christian Democrats had left the New Majority coalition and competed in the elections on its own, but whose presidential candidate did poorly. However, it did not half bad in the legislative elections and might side with Chile Vamos to pass legislations should Pinera won.

  5. Wow. Close! I see that the centre-slightly-left Christian Democrat leader has endorsed Guillier. With the Broad Front and the three smaller leftist parties, on paper that gives Guillier a potential 55.43%, but will some of them splinter or stay home?
    The Chamber of Deputies is even more interesting. Supposing the Christian Democrats rejoin their former partners in the old New Majority, the left has 77 seats against the right’s 73, and the balance of power is held, firstly, by the four deputies of the regionalist coalition of four local regionalist parties under the lovely umbrella of the Social Green Regionalist Federation. If they are really progressive, that leaves the casting vote to an independent. (Who?)

  6. Meanwhile, in the Senate poll, Chile Vamos won 12 of 23 mandates, but that would leave the center-right parties with just 19 of 43 upper house seats (assuming no left-to-right floor crossings among the twenty senators chosen in 2013).

    And on a personal note, I survived Hurricane María, but it’s been a harrowing experience – I’ll spare you the gory details though.

    • Manuel, I am very pleased to see a comment from you. I have been wondering how you fared during the hurricane. It must have been (and still be, in many respects) awful.

  7. Pingback: Chile 2017: Meet your new seat product | Fruits and Votes

  8. The results currently published by Chile’s SERVEL have the center-right parties losing a seat (to the Christian Democrats) in the Chamber of Deputies, leaving them with 72 seats.

    All the same, the reformed electoral system worked to the benefit of the center-right parties: the divided center-left vote allowed center-right parties to pick up extra seats in two Senate constituencies and a dozen or so Chamber districts.

    And yes, more than two months after Maria, things remain awful for most of Puerto Rico.

  9. Pinera has won the runoff, with 54.6% of the vote to 45.4% for Guillier. As has been pointed out above, though, Pinera will be short of a majority in Congress (like his first term) and will need to seek support from the somewhat broader array of opposition parties in order to pass his agenda. Given that the various factions of the left will be able to compete independently in future elections, I’m curious as to whether this will lead to greater ability for them to deal independently with the President/

  10. This may be old news to you by now, but in case you didn’t know last month the center-left parties, the Broad Front, the Christian Democrats and the regionalists reached an agreement to elect Carlos Montes and Maya Fernández Allende – both members of the Socialist Party (and the latter a granddaughter of the late Salvador Allende) – as speakers of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively.

    My website’s Chile page now has the official results of the general election and presidential runoff held in the South American country last November and December. I should also note that concerns about Chile’s new electoral system not fully addressing the issue of malapportionment turned out to be well founded: the number of votes needed to win a seat in the Chamber of Deputies continued to vary significantly across districts in 2017, with figures ranging from a low of 9,920 in District 27 (which covers the entire Aisén region) to a high of 47,492 in District 11 (located in the Santiago metropolitan region).

    Finally, one legislative result that generated a fair amount of controversy was the outcome of the Senate race in the two-seat Arica y Parinacota region, where an independent candidate topped the poll as an individual but failed to be elected, because his vote total was smaller than the figures polled by the two major coalitions, which won one seat each. Nevertheless, the defeated independent bitterly complained that the new electoral system was the old binominal system in disguise.

    • I did not know about the Socialist chamber leaders. That is going to be interesting to watch, especially given the agenda powers the presidency has.

      I had been wondering about the degree of malapportionment under the new electoral system. And that information about the senate race is a great example of the challenges for independent candidates under list systems!

  11. How can Chile reduce malapportionment both chambers of it’s legislative bodies? Should Chile increase the size of both chambers and have larger multi member districts and reserve 10% of seats as an at large tier; leveling seats akin to Norway, and Sweden to insure proportionately across the country? Does any country in Latin America have such a system or is every legislative body elected by regional party lists only?

    • Increasing the size of Chile’s National Congress was one of the least popular aspects of the 2015 constitutional reform. In fact, when electoral reform was still under consideration earlier this decade it was said that the legislative building in Valparaíso had only enough office space for 136 deputies. While they may have managed to fit in the 155 deputies elected last year, I doubt there’s any appetite for a further size increase.

      I should also note that beyond the constraints imposed by the size of the average constituency, the combination of the D’Hondt rule and the distribution of seats first among coalitions and then among constituent parties has contributed significantly to the disparities between party votes and seats. For example, in the Santiago metropolitan region – which has 47 Chamber seats spread across seven districts – PDC won a marginally larger share of the vote (7.6%) than the Communist Party (7.5%), but only won one Chamber seat (2.1%) while the latter, running in coalition with the center-left parties, secured six (12.8%). Meanwhile, in the race for the two Senate seats in the Aisén region, PDC emerged as the largest single party with 30.3% of the vote, but the mandates went to UDI (20.5%) and PPD (15.1%); this was so because the center-right and center-left coalitions narrowly outpolled the Christian Democrats, winning 32.5% and 31.5% of the vote, respectively (however, in the Chamber vote for the same region’s single three-seat district, PDC’s 30.5% share was enough to secure one seat.)

      By the way, not every Latin American legislature is elected by party lists; for one, Mexico has mixed member systems for both houses of the Union Congress (however, neither is really MMP). Also, Puerto Rico – which culturally and linguistically is Latin American, even though it’s part of the U.S. and its inhabitants are American citizens – has a parallel FPTP/SNTV system. I’m not aware of any leveling seats mechanism in place in Latin America, unless you count Puerto Rico’s constitutional provision to increase minority party representation in the event the winning party wins more than two-thirds of the seats in either or both houses of the Commonwealth’s Legislative Assembly.

      • “I’m not aware of any leveling seats mechanism in place in Latin America” -> Guyana has 40 “leveling seats” added to 25 seats from 10 constituencies (maybe you consider Guyana the mirror of Puerto Rico: in South-America but culturally and linguistically not Latin American?)

      • Nicaragua used to have compensatory seats (which I assume is what you mean by “leveling” seats), but maybe they were abolished.

        Of course, by definition, MMP systems have compensatory seats–Bolivia and, for a while, Venezuela. Also as noted, Mexico has what might be called semi-compensatory seats. It is indeed not MMP, but it is not strictly MMM. It is sort of a hybrid of hybrids, but if I had to put into one category, it would be MMM.

      • It should be noted that a significant reason for the disparity in party votes and seats in Chile is that the electoral formula (the D’Hondt form of PR) allocates only to lists. The parties win solely on the intra-list dimension, according to how many candidates get sufficient votes to obtain the seats won by their alliance list. (Leaving aside cases where all candidates on a given list are from the same party, of course.)

        An entire chapter of Votes from Seats is devoted to this phenomenon (in Brazil, Finland, and the former M=2 version of Chile), and an earlier post discussed some implications, as did another one, more tangentially.

  12. Not so: unlike in Brazil, the Chilean electoral system subsequently allocates coalition seats among its constituent parties (also by the D’Hondt method) and only then to the candidates with the largest number of votes within each party, up to the corresponding number of allocated seats. For example, in the Chamber of Deputies’ District 9 (located in the Santiago metropolitan region), the allocation of list seats gave the center-left coalition (List N) three of the district’s seven mandates. In turn, these three seats were distributed among the coalition’s constituent parties, namely the Communist Party (54,798 votes); PPD (32,902) and the Socialist Party (18,126); the party votes were equal to the sum of votes polled by the respective party candidates. As a result, the Communist Party received two seats and PPD one; the Socialist Party won no seats. However, this resulted in the election of the second-placed Communist Party candidate with just 4,352 votes, a figure far below the total polled by the defeated PPD candidate coming second (13,322), who was also the center-left coalition candidate with the third largest number of votes.

    You can verify the accuracy of this information on the website of Chile’s Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones (Electoral Qualifying Tribunal), which has complete 2017 election results at

    Click on the “SENADORES” or “DIPUTADOS” tab, then click on “2017,” and then choose the Senate constituency or Chamber district from the list of Excel-format files. Once you have downloaded the data file for a given constituency or district, click on the “DETERMINACION” tab to display the allocation of seats, first among coalitions, and then among constituent parties; the “ELECTOS” tab has a list of elected candidates, but that information is available as well on the “DATOS” tab, which also indicates the gender of the elected candidates. The other tabs have a wealth of election data, including polling place-level results.

    Note that the Chilean seat allocation procedure takes the smallest D’Hondt quotient used to allocate seats as the final quota, disregarding remainders. I have discussed this alternative D’Hondt procedure extensively on my website (having originally learned about it from a book by the late Maurice Duverger), but this is the first time I’ve seen it implemented.

    As for leveling seats, I assumed Rob meant the upper-tier PR seats available in Norway (19 of 169) and Sweden (39 of 349), which exist to eliminate or at least reduce the disparities between nationwide vote and seat totals resulting from the allocation of list seats at the lower tier, multi-member constituency level; I certainly wasn’t thinking of MMP compensatory seats. Finally, Guyana is in South America for sure, but it’s not considered part of Latin America, so I wasn’t even thinking of that country either.

    • For good measure, I checked the text of Act No. 20,840 (available in Spanish here), which states:

            Artículo 109 bis.- En el caso de elecciones de diputados y senadores, el Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones proclamará elegidos a los candidatos, conforme a las reglas establecidas en el procedimiento que a continuación se detalla:
           1.- El Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones determinará las preferencias emitidas a favor de cada lista y de cada uno de los candidatos que la integran.
           2.- Se aplicará el sistema electoral de coeficiente D’Hondt, para lo cual se procederá de la siguiente manera:
           a) Los votos de cada lista se dividirán por uno, dos, tres y así sucesivamente hasta la cantidad de cargos que corresponda elegir.
           b) Los números que han resultado de estas divisiones se ordenarán en orden decreciente hasta el número correspondiente a la cantidad de cargos que se eligen en cada distrito electoral o circunscripción senatorial.
           c) A cada lista o pacto electoral se le atribuirán tantos escaños como números tenga en la escala descrita en la letra b).
           3.- En el caso de las listas conformadas por un solo partido político, el Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones proclamará electos a los candidatos que hayan obtenido las más altas mayorías individuales de cada lista, de acuerdo al número de cargos que le correspondan a cada una de ellas, luego de aplicar las reglas descritas precedentemente.
           4.- En el caso de los pactos electorales, se aplicarán las siguientes reglas para determinar cuántos escaños le corresponden a cada uno de ellos:
           a) Se calculará el total de los votos de cada partido político o, en su caso, de la suma de cada partido político y las candidaturas independientes asociadas a ese partido.
           b) Se dividirá por uno, dos, tres y así sucesivamente, hasta la cantidad de cargos asignados al pacto electoral.
           c) A cada partido político o, en su caso, a cada partido y las candidaturas independientes asociadas a éste, se le atribuirán tantos escaños como números tenga en la escala descrita en la letra b) precedente.
           d) El Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones proclamará elegidos a los candidatos que hayan obtenido las más altas mayorías individuales de cada partido político o, en su caso, de cada partido, considerando las candidaturas independientes asociadas éste dentro de un pacto electoral, de acuerdo a los cupos obtenidos por cada uno de ellos. 
           En caso de empate entre candidatos de una misma lista, o entre candidatos de distintas listas que a su vez estén empatadas, el Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones procederá en audiencia pública a efectuar un sorteo entre ellos, y proclamará elegido al que salga favorecido.”.

      However (and in the department of “mea culpa”), I checked my own website, where I wrote that:

      “Political parties and coalitions of two or more parties will be able to submit lists in Chamber districts and Senate constituencies with as many candidates as there are seats to be filled, plus one. In each Chamber district or Senate constituency, seats will be apportioned according to the D’Hondt rule; within each list, mandates will be assigned to candidates with the largest number of votes.”

      I can see now that this could be interpreted as meaning that seats won by coalitions are assigned to the coalition candidates with the highest vote totals, irrespective of party affiliation, which is clearly not the case.

    • So, to be clear, the most-voted candidate of a list that is allocated one seat might not get the seat, due to a different party of the same list winning more votes?

      (I assume this never happened under M=2 because no party had more than a single candidate on any list?)

      • That is correct: in fact, that is exactly what happened in Chamber District 16 of the O’Higgins region, where the center-left coalition won a single seat out of four; said mandate was in turn allocated to PRSD, which won 10,733 votes, narrowly ahead of PPD (9,157) and the Socialist Party (8,833). However, the elected PRSD deputy actually polled fewer votes (8,864) than PPD’s sole district candidate.

      • So Chile now has an allocation formula that is not top-s within the list? (I.e., s=number of seats won by list, winners are those s candidates with highest votes.) I totally missed that in all the deliberations over the passage of the law.

        This would be similar to Uruguay (although I am never certain that I fully understand that system!), and it would also be like the “electoral rings” proposed in Finland from time to time, according to the Raunio chapter in Gallagher and Mitchell (2005).

        I wish I had recognized this, as in a footnote in Votes from Seats, we imply that the only thing changing is the magnitudes.

      • As a note of interest, the notional implementation of PR with the top-s method would have changed the party-level outcome for 18 of 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (spread across twelve districts) and two of twenty-three Senate mandates (on two regions). The most notable change would have taken place within the center-right coalition, with UDI registering a net gain of five deputies and becoming the largest single party in the Chamber of Deputies with 35 seats, while RN would have dropped to 32 (for a net loss of four). This would have resulted in a plurality reversal at the party level, since RN had a larger share of the vote (17.8%) than UDI (16.0%). Also, UDI’s over-representation in the Chamber would have increased to 6.6%. Meanwhile, in the Senate UDI would have gained an additional seat for a total of five, which would have been nine percent above its 12.7% share of the Senate vote.

        A plurality reversal outcome in favor of UDI – which was staunchly opposed to PR – would have been highly ironic, and also an inauspicious debut for the new electoral system.

    • The only upper “tiers” I have seen in South/Latin American countries using list PR are not compensatory but work in parallel, e.g. Ecuador. Actually, I believe Guyana’s works the same way, so that doesn’t count as ‘leveling seats’ either.

      • In Guyana, the upper tier (“top up” they call it) is compensatory: the 40 seats in the national tier are determined on the basis of all 65 seats and the 20 constituency seats are then substracted (section 11C Representation of the People Act inserted by section 12(c) of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act 15 of 2000)

        Click to access Election%20Law%20_Amendment_%20Act%20No15%20of%202000.pdf

        (I hope this is the version of the law valid today)

      • To the best of my understanding, Guyana’s upper tier is compensatory (unless it has been changed in the last several years).

        Nicaragua had a remainder-pooling system at least in 1996 and 2001, according to both my memory and, presumably more reliably, the Nohlen (ed.) volume on Elections in the Americas. That would certainly qualify as compensatory/leveling.

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