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Long and narrow, Chile clings to the western edge of South America's South­ern Cone. Hugging - page 23 / 46

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Chile                                   459

degradation and natural resource depletion had increased exponentially. Moreover, the political system fell considerably short of being fully demo­cratic. It was a "protected" democracy full of undemocratic institutions, au­thoritarian enclaves, and reserve domains of power for the military meant to constrain the "sovereign" will of the people. These institutions conferred extraordinary powers on conservative political forces to defend the ortho­dox free-market socio-economic model implanted by the military govern­ment, along with all of its inequalities. The social democratic political forces that have governed Chile since 1990 (and will govern until at least 2006) found legislating social, economic, and political reform a tough uphill bat­tle. They discovered that it was virtually impossible to repeal the undemo­cratic institutions that consistently discriminated in favor of the economic and social interests of a conservative minority.

Administratively, the decentralization program" of the military govern­ment divided Chile's territory into twelve numbered regions (regiones I to XII) and the Santiago metropolitan area. Each region is headed by an in-tendant (intendente) appointed by the president. Regions were divided into the traditional 51 provinces, each headed by a governor also appointed by the president. In November 1991 the Congress approved constitutional changes to local government whereby appointed mayors would be directly elected.

The 1980 constitution established a political system in which executive power is vested in the president, who, according to constitutional reform measures of February 1994, serves a six year term. Successive reelection is not allowed. Presidents are directly elected by absolute majority; in the ab­sence of a clear-cut majority, the two top vote-getters compete in a run-off election (or second round) vote. The president of the republic is aided by a cabinet of his or her choosing composed of 20 ministers and the president of the National Energy Commission and the comptroller-general of the re­public. The executive branch is also assisted by a National Security Council that includes the president of the republic, the presidents of the supreme court and the senate, and the heads of the armed forces (army, navy, air force) and the national militarized police (Carabineros). The presidency is the strongest branch of the political system. It initiates most bills, and the presidency's full weight behind a bill can overcome opposition through com­promise. Moreover, the presidency has a strong role in the maintenance of internal order.

The legislative branch consists of a bicameral Congress located in the port city of Valparaiso (about an hour and a half by road from Santiago). It is not as powerful an institution as it had been before 1973: it is located in a city other than the capital, it meets fewer days than it did before, and its over­sight capacity and the competence of its committees are diminished. The 47-seat Senate has 38 elected members plus nine designated senators; all serve for eight year terms with half of the Senate up for reelection every four years. Four of the designated senatorial positions are reserved for ex-heads of the armed forces and Carabineros who have held the post for at least two years.

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