Elections in Chile: 20% of voters vote on the first day of an election that marks a change of era in Chile | International

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Election workers carry the boxes with the votes, protected by the Chilean Army, this Saturday, May 15, in Santiago de Chile.PABLO SANHUEZA / Reuters

In a civic day that has been developed “successfully”, according to the authorities, 20.5% of Chilean voters authorized to vote have gone to the polls this Saturday on the first of the two days in which the voters will be elected. 155 constituents who will draft the new Constitution, regional governors and municipal authorities (mayors and councilors). 100% of the tables were set up nationwide (46,807) and were open for 10 hours, according to current regulations. Chile had never before held elections in two days, a decision that was made due to the covid-19 pandemic, which has 36,964 active patients nationwide this Saturday. Tonight, in an unprecedented way, the polls are guarded by the Armed Forces and custodians of the Electoral Service (Servel), under strict security measures.

“We look forward to a quiet night. No ballot box or box of electoral materials has been left unsealed and unguarded as the procedure orders it to be done ”, assured the president of the Servel board of directors, Andrés Tagle.

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Participation will be one of the priority issues in these multiple elections, considered the most important in recent decades and in which regional governors are chosen for the first time. The number of voters who come to vote this weekend has special relevance due to the ongoing constituent process, because the possibility of changing the current Constitution was the institutional commitment of the political class to channel the massive and violent protests of October 2019. With a final roll made up of 14.9 million citizens –200,000 more than in the October plebiscite–, Chile is a country with a voluntary vote and with an abstention that does not take off from 50%. In the constitutional referendum of seven months ago, where 80% of the citizens decided to change the Fundamental Charter in force since 1980 –although it was reformed fifty times both at the end of the dictatorship and in democracy–, there was a 50.91% participation .

In Chile, low turnout was a phenomenon that has increased since voluntary voting was implemented in 2012: it fell from 87% in 1989 to a record low of 36% in municipal elections in 2016. The percentage of voters who reached today to the polls (more than three million), therefore, it is considered good according to specialists, given the innovation of voting on a Saturday. The challenge will be this Sunday, where it is hoped that the members of the polling station arrive at the polling stations and will soon reopen the polling stations.

The difference in participation on the first day of elections in Chile is observed between regions and, in turn, in municipalities of the same city. The region with the highest percentage, Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, south of Santiago, reached 22.13% today. The region with the lowest participation today was Antofagasta, in the north of the country, with 14.81%. In the capital, meanwhile, differences are again observed between the wealthy and popular sectors. In La Pintana, one of the most popular communes in Santiago, the participation has barely reached 13.69% until tonight. In Vitacura, one of the richest municipalities, it reached 41.31%.

It is a complex choice. To start with, because it is about four elections in one (of the 10 elections that have been imposed in the tight six-month period). For example, for a citizen who resides and votes in Santiago Centro, he must choose between 78 candidates for the constituent convention. For governors, there are eight applicants. For mayors, there are six candidates. For councilors in Santiago, there are 92 options. In some municipalities, such as Santiago itself or the popular La Florida, in the capital, the vote for councilors reaches a size of 46 by 63 centimeters. As observed in the day, there was some difficulty, especially in the elderly – who had preferential hours on Saturday afternoon – to fold the paper.

The pandemic has not helped either. A good part of the capital is still in quarantine, although it is enough to show that they go to vote to leave their homes without difficulties. This Saturday and Sunday, non-renounceable holidays were declared and there are public transport facilities, such as the Santiago metro, which is free. But the numbers for the pandemic remain high. According to the data provided this Saturday by the Ministry of Health, there were 6,769 new cases (1,280,252 total cases, throughout the health crisis), 36,964 active cases and 87 deaths in the last 24 hours (out of a total of 27,734 deaths ). The vaccination, however, gives some breathing space to these electoral days: 9,006,139 people have been vaccinated with the first dose and 7,457,662 with the two doses, that is, 49.1% of the target population.

On the first day of the Chilean elections, a good part of the 16 presidential candidates voted (there are parliamentary and presidential elections in November). The president of the Senate, the Christian Democratic senator, Yasna Provoste, of Diaguita origin, chose to vote with the green ballot for the seats reserved for indigenous peoples, which will have 17 seats in the 155-member constitutional convention. The President of the Republic, Sebastián Piñera, voted early. "Voting is voluntary according to the law, but I feel that it is an obligation as a moral imperative," said the president.

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