Freedom in the World
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Chile is a stable presidential democracy that has experienced an expansion of political rights and civil liberties since the return of civilian rule in 1990. Ongoing concerns include corruption, physical abuse by police, and unrest linked to land disputes with the indigenous Mapuche population.
- Voter turnout in the October municipal elections reached a historic low of 34.9 percent. The process was also marred by an error in which the electoral authority wrongly changed the addresses of 485,000 people, or 3.4 percent of registered voters. The center-right opposition coalition Chile Vamos won 145 mayoralties and 916 council seats, while the ruling center-left New Majority won 141 mayoralties and 1,208 council seats.
- Also that month, Chile’s national children’s service released a report revealing that 865 minors had died under its care between 2005 and 2016. The government pledged additional funding and reforms at the service.
- In May, President Michelle Bachelet filed a defamation suit against the magazine Qué Pasa over its coverage of a case involving suspected influence peddling by her daughter-in-law. Bachelet withdrew the lawsuit in September after a professional ethics organization sanctioned the publication.
In 2016 the government faced low public approval ratings amid a series of setbacks, including high-profile corruption scandals. Cases that emerged during the year involved unjustified pay and pension increases within Chile’s gendarmerie and a January audit report showing that six lawmakers had received interest-free loans from the National Congress, among other revelations. In February, charges were filed against military officers accused of misappropriating funds in a scandal that broke in 2015. In June, Senator Jaime Orpis of the conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party was placed in detention on suspicion of bribery and tax fraud, and a former senator and cabinet minister from the same party, Pablo Longueira, was placed under nighttime house arrest as part of a similar investigation.
Broader concerns about lack of transparency stem from the legislature’s limited ability under the constitution to supervise or alter the executive budget, and from a provision that reserves 10 percent of copper export revenues for the military, with little independent oversight.
Mapuche activists seeking control over ancestral lands continued to engage in street protests and arson attacks throughout the year. In July, Bachelet announced a new 21-member dialogue panel to address the long-standing dispute. Separately in August, hundreds of thousands of people protested in the capital and other cities to call for an overhaul of the country’s system of private pension funds. Despite these and other protests, there were few complaints of police brutality compared with previous years.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Chile, see Freedom in the World 2016.