Indigenous Leader Fights Hurdles
to Become Candidate
by Gustavo González
Sep 23 (IPS) - A Mapuche indigenous leader, Aucán Huilcamán,
whose bid to run in Chile's Dec. 11 presidential elections has been blocked
by legal formalisms, could overcome the hurdles and thus help democratise
an electoral system that discriminates against indigenous people.
Michelle Bachelet, the ruling centre-left coalition's presidential candidate
and the front-runner in the polls, met this week with Huilcamán
and told him she supported a legal reform that would make it possible
for him to stand in the elections.
The government of President Ricardo Lagos also expressed its willingness
to seek a legislative solution to the problem.
The indigenous leader had already obtained the support of the other three
presidential candidates - Sebastián Piñera and Joaquín
Lavín of the right-wing opposition parties, and Tomás Hirsch
of the leftist Juntos Podemos Más alliance, made up of the small
Communist and Humanist Parties.
Huilcamán, who is "werkén" (spokesman) for the
All Lands Council, one of the leading Mapuche organisations in Chile,
presented his candidacy to the electoral authorities on Sep. 12, representing
the "Popular Indigenous Network", a movement that is not a legal
Under Chilean law, a presidential candidate must have the support of two
legal parties, or register as an independent with the backing of 35,171
signatures. Huilcamán, who visited the Electoral Service in Santiago
on Sep. 12 wearing typical Mapuche dress and riding a white horse at the
head of a line of 10 other indigenous riders, presented 39,100 signatures.
But on Sep. 15 he announced that his application had been rejected.
The reason, he was told by the director of the Electoral Service, Ignacio
García, was that only 1,399 of the signatures had been authenticated
by a notary public, which is a legal requisite. The indigenous leader,
who collected the signatures on a horseback tour that started out from
Temuco, the capital of the southern region of Araucanía, said the
requirement that the signatures be notarised discriminates against candidates
without financial resources since notary publics charge between two and
four dollars for each authenticated signature.
"What happened in the case of Aucán's candidacy represents
an injustice, and also shows that the Chilean democratic system is elitist,
with huge difficulties in opening itself up to different approaches to
politics," said Francisco Estévez, president of the non-governmental
organisation Fundación Ideas, which is dedicated to studies on
political and social exclusion. "The requisites are practically impossible
for an independent candidate like Huilcamán to meet," he told
IPS. "I believe it is absolutely superfluous to require that the
signatures be notarised."
He argued that the signatures should be authenticated free of charge by
the electoral authorities.
Parliamentary Deputy Antonio Leal of the co-governing Party for Democracy
(PPD) concurred. "All independent candidates should be able to present
the signatures they collect without being required to have them previously
notarised, because the Electoral Service can check the signatures,"
he commented to IPS. "I support the PPD's commitment to push for
the modification of the law, in order to give independent candidates a
greater chance of running in elections, not only at the presidential level,
but at the legislative level as well," the lawmaker added.
The PPD is one of the four parties comprising the governing Coalition
for Democracy, along with the Christian Democracy Party, the Socialist
Party and the Radical Social Democrat Party, which has governed Chile
since the restoration of democracy after the dictatorship of General Augusto
Pinochet (1973-1990) came to an end.
"The legislation should at some point tend towards greater ease in
registering candidates to Congress and the presidency," said Cristián
Monckeberg of the right-wing National Renovation Party (PRN).
But, he cautioned, the legislation must also guarantee that presidential
candidates are serious. "We're not talking about registering candidates
for the presidency of a trade union or for class president, but for the
presidency of the republic, someone who will guide the country's destiny,"
he told IPS.
The PRN has its own presidential candidate, Piñera, even though
it is jointly fielding parliamentary lists with the Independent Democratic
Union (UDI), the other large right-wing party, whose presidential candidate
Both Piñera and Lavín have poll ratings between 18 and 20
percent, compared to 45 to 47 percent for Bachelet - just a few points
shy of the absolute majority she needs to avoid a runoff election.
Right-wing media outlets suggested that Bachelet would benefit the most
from the disqualification of Huilcamán's candidacy, because like
Hirsch - who has two to three percent support in the polls - the indigenous
leader could draw votes from the most progressive sectors, which the ruling
coalition candidate will need in order to secure a first-round victory.
Nevertheless, Bachelet not only expressed her determined support for Huilcamán's
candidacy, but also called on the right-wing alliance - made up of UDI
and the PRN - to be coherent when calling for the democratisation of the
electoral system, and to also agree to reforms of the "binomial system".
Under that system, put in place by the Pinochet regime, two deputies and
two senators are elected for each electoral district and constituency.
The system basically promotes the existence of two large coalitions, while
marginalising smaller forces like the Communist and Humanist Parties,
as well as independents. Although these parties take a significant number
of votes, they are excluded from parliament since they are unable to win
the first or second largest majority in any particular district.
Twenty of the 38 seats in the Senate will be up for grabs on Dec. 11,
along with all 120 seats in the lower house. A total of 64 candidates
are running for the Senate and 400 for the Chamber of Deputies. Most of
the candidates belong to the governing coalition, the rightist alliance,
and Juntos Podemos Más. Less than three percent are independent.
There are few indigenous people on the parliamentary slates, despite the
fact that indigenous people make up nearly seven percent of Chile's population
of 15.2 million, according to the 2002 census, or as much as 10 percent
by other estimates. Guillermo Trapailaf Manquelafquen of the Communist
Party - who is running for the southern region of Los Lagos - is the only
Mapuche candidate for the Senate. But he stands no chance of winning.
Similarly slim odds are faced by six indigenous candidates competing for
seats in the lower house, of whom four belong to the Juntos Podemos Más
electoral alliance and one to the Coalition for Democracy, while one is
independent. There are currently no indigenous lawmakers, and the only
descendant of Mapuche Indians - Chile's main minority ethnic group - who
has served as a member of Congress is Christian Democrat Francisco Huenchumilla,
now mayor of Temuco.
In the December 2002 municipal elections, 17 indigenous mayors were elected,
out of a nationwide total of 345.
The disqualification of Huilcamán as a candidate even had international
repercussions, prompting the Greens in the European Parliament to send
a letter to the Lagos administration and Congress, insisting that he be
allowed to run. (END/2005)