Electoral reform in Chile passes lower house in key step forward

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 14, 2014 10:23 AM

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A bill to reform Chile's dictatorship-era electoral system took an important step forward late Wednesday night, when it was approved by the lower house of Congress.

The current electoral system was created by General Augusto Pinochet toward the end of his 1973-1990 period in power to ensure right-wing parties retained an important say after the return to democracy. It effectively prevents any one bloc from gaining a significant majority.

Multiple attempts have been made to reform the system in the last 24 years but have foundered due to a lack of cross-party support. Although the right-wing UDI party still opposes reform, President Michelle Bachelet's center-left government was able to push the bill through with the support of center-right and independent representatives.

However, the bill must still pass the Senate, a likely tougher proposition, and elements of it could be watered down.

"Today we have taken a fundamental step," said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

"This is a historic and important day for the strengthening of our democracy... it is a reform that we have been waiting for more than 24 years."

The reform would increase senator seats to 50 from the current 38, and increase the size of the lower house to 155 from 120. It also redraws electoral boundaries and states that election slates must not have more than 60 percent of candidates from either gender, in an attempt to improve female representation.

The bill makes good on a pledge of Bachelet ahead of last year's election. If passed into law, her bloc would likely win a larger majority in future congressional elections, allowing it to make more sweeping reforms to the Pinochet-era constitution.

(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Dan Grebler)