CHILEANS residing abroad were able to cast their votes for the presidential election Sunday, a first in Chile’s more than 200-year-old history as a republic.
Fernanda Vila, consul of Chile in Manila, said more than 100 Chilean nationals were staying in the Philippines and a number of them were qualified to vote for president.
Sebastian Pinera, one of Chile’s richest men, looks likely to prevail in the first round of the country’s presidential election, confirming his frontrunner status to succeed Socialist leader Michelle Bachelet.
“This is indeed the very first time that Chilean citizens will be able to vote abroad, so this is a historic moment on our democratic history,” Vila said in an interview with The Manila Times.
As consul, Vila is president of the Election Board in the Philippines, supervising the electoral process carried out by election monitors. The election monitors or members of the polling stations were composed of three Chilean citizens residing in the country.
“We only facilitate the process, but we do not intervene and participate directly,” Vila explained.
The polling started exactly 9 a.m. and was closed at 6 p.m., ahead of the election in Chile by 11 hours. The law that allows Chileans abroad to exercise their right to vote was enacted by President Michelle Bachelet in 2016. It allowed some 450,000 Chileans overseas to vote in presidential elections, presidential primaries and referendums.
Vila said voting was voluntary and only those Chilean residents who registered and updated their domicile were allowed to vote.
The Foreign Ministry of Chile started work on the process, including the application of Chilean citizens who wanted to change their addresses, in November 2016.
“For citizens to be able to vote abroad they need to do that process,” Vila said.
All election materials, including the polling booths, were provided by the Government of Chile.
“So, by tomorrow (Monday in Manila) we will know the new president of Chile who was also voted by citizens abroad,” Vila said.
If the 67-year-old billionaire Pinera does ultimately become head of state, it would be his second chance to run Latin America’s fifth-biggest economy—confirming a tag team for power that he and Bachelet, 66, have been performing for the past decade.
Chile’s constitution does not permit consecutive terms for its president. But re-election after a skipped term is permissible, and that quite possibly is what is in store after this weekend, thus swinging the pendulum of Chile’s national politics from left back to right again.
Voter intention surveys credit the Harvard-educated Pinera, who was president from 2010 to 2014, with a comfortable lead in the race—but not enough to win the presidency outright on Sunday.
“It’s not very likely” he will get the 50 percent or more of ballots needed to avoid a run-off, said political analyst Mauricio Morales of Talca Univ ersity.
In that case, a second-round showdown would be held between the top two candidates on December 17. The winner takes over in March next year.
Apart from Pinera, Sunday’s field counts seven candidates.
His closest rival is Alejandro Guillier, a former state TV anchor turned senator who presents himself as an independent but who has the backing of Bachelet’s Socialists.
Guillier is credited with 25 percent of voter support, against 44 percent for Pinera.
With the outcome weighted heavily in Pinera’s favor, voter apathy could be an issue.
Compulsory voting was dropped in 2012, and since then a growing proportion of the 14-million-strong electorate has decided to stay away from polling stations.
“People don’t want to vote because, really, nobody believes there will be any significant change anywhere. Also, they see who will be president as a foregone conclusion,” said Catalina Gascone, a 19-year-old student.
Analysts predict abstention could be as high as 40 percent on Sunday, and that Pinera has more motivated voters who will turn out.
Pinera’s first presidential victory in 2009 elections signified a break from the center-left politics that had reigned in Chile since democracy was restored with the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990.
But a comeback by him was not seen as a rejection of the overall economic and social model erected in the Bachelet years, during which Chile posted 1.8 percent in annual growth and saw tax and labor reforms, an introduction of free education, and the right to abortion.
“Chileans don’t want to tear down the model, just fix its structure,” Morales said.
Pinera has promised modifications to Bachelet’s reforms, as well as vowing to have Chile join the club of developed nations within the next eight years.
His effectiveness, though, could be hobbled by a shortfall in legislative support.
“He is not going to have a majority in Congress,” another analyst, Marta Lagos, founder of Latinobarometro and MORI Chile, predicted.
Sunday’s balloting also includes legislative elections for many of the congressional seats. Electoral forecasts suggest the right will increase its representation, but likely will not have the majority in either chamber.