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Poll stations preparating in Chile Poll stations preparating in Chile  (AFP or licensors)

Ahead of polls Chilean bishops remind citizens that voting is a civic duty

On the eve of the highly anticipated elections in Chile, on December 19, Chilean bishops urge citizens to exercise their right to vote and express concern over growing polarization in the country.

By Lisa Zengarini

Chile is set for its most divisive presidential run-off since returning to democracy on Sunday, with two political outsiders contending the post in what is expected to be a tight race. Voters will be called to choose between far-right conservative José Antonio Kast from the Chilean Republican Party, a former congressman sometimes likened to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and a sympathizer of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet, and leftist lawmaker and former student activist Gabriel Boric who heads a coalition including the Communist party.

The result is likely to bring about the most radical political change since the end of Pinochet’s regime in 1990.

 

Vote with conscience 

Ahead of the ballot Chilean bishops are inviting Catholics “to vote with conscience in light the fundamental Christian principles which are at the base of the social and political order". They are also urging all citizens to exercise their right to vote, reminding them that participation is at the heart of democracy.

A civic duty

In the face of two radical candidates with opposite social and political views, moderate voters might be tempted not to vote at all. However, in a message issued on Thursday, the Permanent Committee of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference (CECH) highlights the fact that voting is a civic duty that must be honored by all citizens “even when the options at stake seem inadequate". Whatever the case, the decision must be made in view of the "greatest common good" possible in the given circumstances, Chilean bishops stress.

The message also addresses the two contendents, calling on the incoming president to govern the country in the interest of all Chileans, “seeking the path of dialogue, consensus, justice and fraternity”: “We ask both candidates to respect the democratic values, accept citizens’ opinions and to collaborate to build a political community whose soul is social charity”, they write.

Call for moderation

Though not taking sides, Chilean bishops don’t mince words in criticizing the aggressiveness of the electoral campaign which, they say, only contributes to citizens’ political disenchantment “and has often prevented from addressing the basic issues affecting Chileans”. In this respect they welcome the more moderate proposals that have been put forward in recent weeks by both candidates.

Citizens' responsibilities

Finally, the statement warns that Chilean citizens too should have their share of responsibility for their country: “We should not expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes”, bishops conclude echoing Pope Francis’ words in ‘Fratelli Tutti’.

Voter attendance critical 

Voter attendance will be critical in Sunday’s ballot. Three-quarters of Chile’s more than 15 million registered voters did not vote for either of the two running candidates last month. More than half did not participate at all, and more than 45 percent of those who did cast a ballot, voted for one of the other five candidates.  

In October 2020 an overwhelming majority of Chileans voted in favour of rewriting the constitution in a referendum, held as a result of mass street demonstrations across the country a year earlier against high level inequalities in Chile. One of the key demands of the protests was to replace the country’s dictatorship-era constitution which protesters argued was at the root of much of Chile's inequality by giving undue weight to Chile's private sector. Boric supported that demand, while Kast opposed it. A convention of elected citizen representatives is currently drafting a new constitution, which is expected to be finished and put to a referendum during the next presidential mandate.

18 December 2021, 14:59