And the Winner is…

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Many Chileans exercised their right to vote for the first time in Sunday’s presidential election thanks to a revamped voting system that came into effect last year.

Hold your horses, though.  That doesn’t mean we have a new president yet.  This is Chile we’re talking about… these things take time.  Anyhow…

Here are some of the changes implemented in this year’s election:

  • Voting is no longer mandatory: Before 2012, if you chose to sign up to vote, you were obligated to vote for the rest of your life.  If you didn’t vote, you were fined between 18,500 and 120,000 Chilean pesos (37.00 – 240.00 USD).
  • Inscription is automatic: If you are a Chilean citizen, you can vote as soon as you turn 18.  Just enter your identification number at the Servicio Electoral page, and they’ll tell you where you’re registered to vote.  For those of us who are foreigners, five years of residence is sufficient to have your vote counted in these direct elections.
  • Men and women can now vote in the same place: Elections take place in schools and other public buildings, and each voter has a designated place to vote.  But previously, women and men had different designated voting centers.
  • Presidential elections now happen on the third Sunday of November, whereas before they occurred on the Sunday closest to December 11.  This allows a little more time for the second round of voting before the new president is sworn in to office.  And since Chile requires an absolute majority, meaning that the winning candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a second round is usually pretty likely.

The Results

Pie Chart Chilean Presidential Elections 2013

With about 46 percent of the vote, Michelle Bachelet pulled ahead of the other candidates.  Bachelet is running for her second term and representing the Nueva Mayoría (check out point number 5 in this post).  Presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, which is why Bachelet is running for her second term now, four years after her first term ended.

Behind her was Evelyn Matthei, economist and experienced politician.  Matthei is representing the Alianza, a rightist coalition that incorporates the Independent Democratic Union and the National Renewal party, with 25 percent of the vote.

Chile has a multiparty state, but it is mostly split between two huge coalitions: the left versus the right, represented by the candidates above.  There were seven other candidates running for the presidency, as you can see in the charts, but the coalitions, as usual, took the bulk of the votes.

Chilean Presidential Election 2013 Results

We’ll see what happens after the next round on December 15.  In the meantime, I’m interested in what y’all think about this type of multiparty system?  What are its benefits?  What are its shortcomings?


There’s death in Neruda’s bones, but is there poison?

Ever since Pablo Neruda died suddenly only twelve days after Chile’s 1973 coup d’état, the public has speculated as to the real cause of his death.  The influential Nobel Prize winner, who had withdrawn from the 1970 elections as the Communist Party’s presidential nominee, supported Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende.

Last Friday, for the first time in 40 years of speculation, we had new information to consider: Neruda’s remains show no signs of foul play.

Death of the Poet

According to the official report, Neruda died from “cancer cachexia” while being treated for advanced prostate cancer in the Clínica Santa María hospital on September 23, 1973.  This was just days before he had planned to flee to Mexico.

Around the same time, Chile was in violent upheaval—people were killed, arrested, and sequestered during the dictatorship following the coup.  The Chilean military ransacked or occupied all of Neruda’s three houses, and many of the people who attended his funeral, which was overseen by police at the Cementerio General, were taken into custody afterward.

Nothing could be done at the time to further investigate Neruda’s death.

After the end of the dictatorship, on December 12, 1992, Neruda was finally exhumed and buried at his house in Isla Negra.  There, next to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, he had rested until April 2013.

Graves of Pablo Neruda and Matilde Urrutia

“Death comes to shout without a mouth”**

The world has continued to question the cause of Neruda’s death, until finally, in 2011, the Chilean Communist Party decided to open a lawsuit based on the claims of Neruda’s ex-chauffeur, Manuel Arraya.  Araya claimed that Neruda had been injected with a lethal substance, which led to his death.  And so it was decided that the great poet’s remains would be reexamined in April of 2013.

On Friday, November 8, 2013, a statement was released asserting that the team of 13 experts—from Chile’s Medical Legal Service, the University of Chile, the United States, and Spain—had found no chemical agents that could have caused Neruda’s death.

There was evidence of the advanced prostate cancer he had been suffering and the presence of typical medications used to treat such cancer.

Restlessness and Continuing Controversy

While many organizations, including the Pablo Neruda Foundation, stated that these results confirmed their beliefs about Neruda’s death, other parties, including Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, insist that the examinations were not exhaustive and that there are still tests that need to be run before ruling out assassination.

To this, Fernando Sáez, director of the Neruda Foundations, says that those who wish to believe that Neruda was assassinated will continue to speculate.

At the end of the day, it is still up to the judge to take all of the results into account and release a verdict.  But what will it take to have a definitive answer?  And how will that answer change how we understand history and Neruda’s life?  Time will tell.

**Take a look at an interesting poem in which Neruda discusses death and bones: “Solo la muerte