This article was originally published on The Santiago Times in September 2013

After a bill for Chileans living abroad to be able to vote in presidential elections and national plebiscites passed the Senate Constitutional Committee in August, it has now been approved by the High Chamber of the Senate.

Senators have until the end of the month to finalize details of theproject, which will then reach a final vote. Valeria Lübbert, a Chilean who lives in the U.S. and is the legal adviser for the campaign group “Haz tu voto volar” — or Make your vote fly — said senators who voted against the project will present objections.

“The objections (...) will try to impose conditions and require ties to Chileans living abroad so their right to vote is recognized,” Lübbert told The Santiago Times. “The more traditional right wants to differentiate first- and second-class citizens.”

In a statement, the campaign group asked senators to drop what they called illegitimate objections and to openly recognize the right to vote which is already implicit in the constitution. Lübbert told The Santiago Times she is confident the objections will be rejected and Chileans living abroad could vote soon.

“We can expect to vote in 2017, but believe there are no real or technical obstacles for this reform to be ready for the next elections,” Lübbert said. “It’s a matter of political will.”

Christian Democratic (DC) Sen. Soledad Alvear, who has been behind the initiative for years, expressed her satisfaction about the project finally being approved. She said she was glad senators from the center-right National Renewal party (RN) voted in favor, breaking with its coalition mate — the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) — to do so.

Lübbert says politicians who have been voting against this bill want to limit the right to vote of a certain demographic, and said that is not justified.

“Republicans in the U.S. try to limit the Democratic-leaning African American population’s ability to vote. In Chile they believe, without basis, that those living abroad are more liberal and close to the left,” Lübbert said. “The binomial system and high quorum requirements have given veto power to a conservative minority which has hampered the approval of the right to vote abroad.”

In August, a Senate commission had approved the project by four votes against one, with the RN’s Carlos Larraín voting against it.

Campaign groups have been advocating for Chileans living abroad, who are estimated to be around 850,000, to be allowed to vote since the return to democracy in 1990. The right to vote abroad is a political promise President Sebastián Piñera has made in each of his May 21 state of the nation addresses.

Even though the project is likely to pass, Víctor Sáez, campaign coordinator in Germany, says there is still much progress to be done and explains some conditions need to be met in the final bill.

“We want to be able to vote for deputies and senators, otherwise we can’t hope to see our interests represented in parliament,” Sáez told The Santiago Times. “And we shouldn’t be only able to vote in consulates, because it marginalizes many people who are too far away or busy working and can not take part in the elections.”

Senators have until Sept. 30 to bring about objections, which will be discussed in the Senate before the final vote takes place.

Copyright 2013 - The Santiago Times
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