Scandal-Hit Chile Fights Voter Mistrust With Transparency Bill

  • New law regulates political party funding and limits spending
  • Bill establishes 40% gender quota in parties' top leadership

Chile’s politicians are seeking to clean up their act after more than a year of funding scandals, approving two bills to regulate party financing and restore some voter confidence as election season approaches.

President Michelle Bachelet signed into law two bills on Monday that will limit campaign spending, prevent companies from funding political parties and establish a 40 percent gender quota for the parties’ top decision-making bodies.

"We are closing the doors to practices that were entrenched in political activity,” Bachelet said as she signed the bills. “The next elections will be a new start: campaigns will be more austere and shorter, less dirty.”

Tax authorities and prosecutors are probing allegations that companies financed political campaigns through a system of fake receipts for work that was never carried out. Those charged with accepting the money include fund raisers for Bachelet and for a former president, Eduardo Frei, while people linked to ex-President Sebastian Pinera are under investigation, though they haven’t been charged. As the allegations pile up, parties are struggling to find candidates with unblemished reputations for the 2017 elections.

With support for the ruling and opposition coalitions ranking 17 percent and 16 percent respectively, according to the March Gfk Adimark survey, politicians fear low voter turnout in the coming local and presidential elections.

The reform "is a partial response, it is insufficient, but it goes in the right direction," said Patricio Navia, a political scientist with New York University. Expectations on the effects of these laws are too high and trust in politicians is likely to remain low, he added.

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