SANTIAGO – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet enacted Friday a law giving Chileans living abroad the right to vote, an act that will benefit some 450,000 people and will be effective for the 2017 presidential elections.
“After so much time and effort we will be witnesses and protagonists of this landmark moment that will make our democracy stronger,” Bachelet said during a ceremony at La Moneda Palace, the presidential residence.
The president noted the “long struggle” of Chileans who live abroad to have the right to vote, particularly important at a time when high abstention rates “form a cloud that darkens our electoral processes.”
About half a million Chileans were either forced into exile or chose to leave the country during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), many of whom decided not to return following the recovery of democracy and continue to live with their families in countries on all continents.
“The coming presidential elections will find us at a higher level of mature and full democracy, because we have included our compatriots living abroad,” Bachelet said.
The law, which required a previous constitutional reform, allows voting in presidential elections, national referenda and presidential primaries for Chileans living outside the country.
Chileans in other countries who wish to vote must register at their Chilean Consulate or with the chief for alien and immigration affairs of the Investigative Police, or PDI, upon entering or leaving the country, Bachelet said.
With this information a registry of Chileans living abroad will be drawn up, and at least one electoral council will be established at the 110 Chilean Consulates around the world.
“There will be a total of 112 councils with at least one polling station each,” the president said, adding that other places to vote could be determined 90 days before the election and announced by the Electoral Service, or Servel.
“Those living abroad will have an identical voting process as in our country: the vote will be on a paper ballot and people will vote at the same time as in Chile, adapted to the hour of the country where they live,” Bachelet said.