- In December, left-wing legislator Gabriel Boric became the youngest president elected in Chilean history after winning 55.8 percent of the votes in the runoff election. Elections were also held for the Constitutional Convention, the Chamber of Deputies, over half of the Senate, governors, and regional councilors.
- Though progressives won the presidency and dominated the Constitutional Convention and subnational politics, Congress remained fragmented, meaning Boric will govern under a divided government.
- In October, the Pandora Papers investigation revealed that President Sebastián Piñera had allegedly engaged in irregular use of his political office for personal financial gain. Although the Chamber of Deputies approved impeachment charges, the Senate acquitted Piñera.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
Presidential elections in Chile are free and fair. The president is directly elected to a four-year term, and consecutive terms are not permitted. In December 2021, Chileans elected Gabriel Boric, to the presidency. Boric, a leftist member of Congress, won the second round of the election with 55.8 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest elected president in Chilean history at age 35.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The upper house, the Senate, has 50 seats, and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, has 155 seats; all members are directly elected. Senators serve eight-year terms, with half up for election every four years, and members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected to four-year terms.
In November 2021, Chileans elected 27 of 50 senators and all 155 members of the Chamber of Deputies. No coalition won a majority of seats, and both chambers remain politically diverse.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Chile’s electoral framework is robust and generally well implemented.
In May of 2021, Chileans elected all 155 members of the Constitutional Convention using a gender parity criterion, with 17 seats reserved for Chile’s 10 official Indigenous groups. The convention will propose a new constitution in 2022, which must be approved by a referendum. The constitutional reform process was triggered by an October 2020 national plebiscite, organized in response to the large-scale protests of the previous year. The election of the convention was held concurrently with subnational elections, including for governors, who were elected for the first time following a 2018 legal reform.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Chile has a multiparty political system in which parties operate freely. The newly elected Congress, which will hold its first session in March 2022, includes representatives from 16 political parties, as well as several independent candidates. Multiple new parties were registered or began organizing in 2020, motivated by interest in participating in the Constitutional Convention elected in May 2021. By the end of 2021, 27 parties were legally constituted.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Power alternation between parties occurs regularly, both in Congress and for the presidency.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
People are generally free to exercise their political choices without undue influence from actors that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
The Constitutional Convention elected in May 2021 features gender parity among its 155 members, comprised of 78 men and 77 women, and 17 seats were reserved for members of Indigenous communities. Women are represented in government, and the electoral system includes a quota for women in the legislature. However, women report difficulty gaining influence in intraparty debates.
The interests of the Mapuche minority, which represents about 9 percent of the population, are present in political life, with Mapuche activists regularly making their voices heard in street demonstrations. However, this activism has yet to translate into significant legislative power. In 2017, one Mapuche candidate was elected to the Senate, and one to the Chamber of Deputies.
Members of the LGBT+ community are organized in civil society organizations but few are elected to political positions.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
While lobbying and interest groups exist and work to shape policy, there is little significant intervention by actors who are not democratically accountable in policymaking processes.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Anticorruption laws are generally enforced, though high-level corruption scandals crop up with some regularity. In October 2021, an anticorruption investigation into President Sebastián Piñera was triggered by allegations found in leaked documents known as the Pandora Papers, which sparked an international investigation that exposed offshore financial records of powerful figures across the globe. Information included in the documents led to speculation that Piñera had improperly used his office to benefit from the sale of a mining company; the sale was contingent on the government choosing not to impose environmental restrictions on the mining area. In November, the Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach Piñera; the Senate acquitted him one week later.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The government operates with relative transparency. In 2009 the Transparency and Access to Public Information Law came into force; it increases public access to information and created a Council on Transparency. Agencies have generally been responsive to information requests.
In September 2019 the government replaced the decades-old Copper Law, in what was viewed as a major step toward improving transparency in the wake of a series of corruption scandals involving the armed forces. The previous legislation stipulated that 10 percent of the state-run copper giant Codelco’s export sales be channeled to the armed forces without oversight.
|Are there free and independent media?
Guarantees of free speech are generally respected, though some laws barring defamation of state institutions remain on the books. Media ownership is highly concentrated.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The constitution provides for religious freedom, and the government generally upholds this right in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Generally, academic freedom is unrestricted in Chile. In 2019, protesters occupied, vandalized, and looted some universities, forcing several educational establishments to finish the semester early or move classes online. Some academics were publicly harassed, especially on social media. However, in 2020 academic freedom was restored to its previous level.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Chileans enjoy open and free private discussion.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The right to assemble peacefully has traditionally been widely respected. However, peaceful protest activity that arose in 2019, when people took to the streets to demonstrate against the government and against societal inequality, was severely disrupted by a variety of factors including people who took advantage of the protest movement’s cover to engage in looting, arson, and vandalism; and by widespread police violence and a restrictive state of emergency that was imposed in response to the unrest. Though sporadic protests still occur, both civilian violence and police repression have decreased significantly since 2019.
In September 2021, the government lifted a COVID-19-related state of emergency that had been in effect since March of 2020.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because past violent crackdowns on protests were not repeated.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) form and operate without interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
There are strong laws protecting worker and union rights, but some limited antiunion practices by private sector employers continue to be reported.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts are generally free from political interference.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
The right to legal counsel is constitutionally guaranteed and due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, indigent defendants do not always receive effective legal representation.
In 2021, the Supreme Court and other courts of appeal ordered authorities to stop numerous deportations of Venezuelans on the basis of international law; these rulings exposed significant violations of due process.
Human rights groups and the United Nations have also criticized the government’s use of antiterrorism laws, which do not guarantee due process, to prosecute acts of violence by Mapuche activists.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
While the government has developed mechanisms to investigate and punish police abuses, excessive force and human rights abuses committed by the carabineros (the national police) still occur, and such abuses intensified during the social upheaval that started in 2019. The protest movement was also marked by a general state of unrest in many places, as some took advantage of the uprising to commit acts of arson, looting, and other vandalism. Protests, vandalism, and police use of excessive force occurred sporadically throughout 2021, but did not reach the intensity of the unrest seen in 2019.
The government’s National Institute for Human Rights (INDH), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International all accused the carabineros and the military of perpetrating human rights violations during the protests, including excessive use of force against protesters, as well as torture and sexual abuse of people held in detention.
In 2020, the scale of abuses committed by the security forces fell because of the decline in protests amid the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions, but criticism of security force tactics continued, and there is no evidence that practices exposed during the 2019 protests have been addressed.
In October 2021, President Piñera declared a state of emergency in the Araucanía and Biobío regions in response to violent clashes between security forces and Mapuche activists. The state of emergency has been extended several times, and remained in place at the end of 2021.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
While Indigenous people still experience societal discrimination and police brutality, their poverty levels have declined somewhat, aided by government scholarships, land transfers, and social spending.
LGBT+ people continue to face societal bias, despite a 2012 antidiscrimination law that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. In November 2018, the president signed a gender-identity law allowing for gender identity to be changed on the civil registry.
In practice, elites benefit from systematic favorable legal treatment, and widespread grievances about social inequality were a major driver of the 2019 protests.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
The constitution protects the freedom of movement, and the government respects this right in practice. Freedom of movement was constrained in 2019 due to the roadblocks, damage to train stations, and vandalism associated with the social unrest that began in October. In 2020, the transit impact of civil unrest ceased, and in 2021 the only constraints on freedom of movement stemmed from governmental measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Individuals generally have the right to own property and establish and operate private businesses, and do so without interference from the government or other actors. However, Mapuche activists continue to demand greater territorial rights to land, ancestral waters, and natural resources.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
The government generally does not restrict personal social freedoms.
Violence against children and women remains a problem. A law against femicide went into force in 2010. The government reported 44 femicides and 163 attempted femicides in 2021.
In 2017, a law introduced by then president Michelle Bachelet that decriminalized abortion in the events of rape, an inviable fetus, or danger to the life of the woman, took effect.
In December 2021, the Chilean Congress approved same-sex marriage by an overwhelming majority. Previously, a 2015 law recognized civil unions for same-sex and different-sex couples.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
While compulsory labor is illegal, forced labor, particularly among foreign citizens, continues to occur in the agriculture, mining, and domestic service sectors.
Although there have been improvements in fighting child labor, minors still suffer commercial sexual exploitation and work unprotected in the agricultural sector. Moreover, there is limited public information about forced child labor.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free