Sunday, April 27, 2014

Michelle Bachelet and Electoral Reform

I've written a million times about proposals to reform Chile's binomial electoral system, which has been a goal of center-left parties for the past 24 years. In recent years it has gained momentum and is once again the news.

It's a slippery topic. I've noted before how the center-right, especially Renovación Nacional, became more intrigued at the possibilities as they decided it might benefit them. That obviously increased the chances of passage.

This particular proposal, though, adds a new dimension--literally--by changing the shape of districts. Robert Funk notes the socio-economic angle:

“Currently, districts are drawn along very specific socioeconomic lines,” Funk told The Santiago Times. “It would be interesting to see how that [change] would affect elections.”

Meanwhile, both the right and the left are wary of increasing the number of legislators. Aside from the uncertainty about how those new seats would shake out, there is an additional question of cost. Simply put, adding new people takes money.

Finally, add the 40% gender quota for candidates and you have quite a complicated situation. Chile is currently 91st in the world in terms of female legislators and so this would have a major impact. I have yet to see what the response has been to this part of the proposal but it is reasonable to assume it will generate debate, especially from conservatives who see it in similar terms to the way conservatives tend to see affirmative action in the United States.

The reforms require a 3/5 majority, which requires keeping your own people in line while selectively reaching out across the aisle. Is Bachelet up to the House of Cards-esque arm-twisting plus wooing that will be necessary?

I poked fun at Bachelet being chosen as person of influence by Time (and thanks to The Santiago Times for picking it up!) and this will be a perfect test because it is going to require her active participation. Pushing it through successfully in some form would be a big deal. Given all the past failures and the political complexities involved we should be skeptical, but let's sit back and see what the president can do.


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