Chileans living in Manitoba permitted to vote in presidential election for first time

Chilean citizens living in Manitoba were allowed to vote in the country's Presidential election Sunday, a promise that has been more than 20 years in the making.

Officials hoping for an 85 per cent turnout in Winnipeg

Maria Barahona got to vote in the Chilean election Sunday for the first time since leaving the country in 1974. (CBC)

Chilean citizens living in Manitoba were allowed to vote in the country's presidential election Sunday, a promise that has been more than 20 years in the making.

Voting official Carlos Hidalgo said they were expecting an 85 per cent turnout at the Winnipeg voting station at the Holiday Inn on Pembina Highway Sunday.

"The right to actually vote, for Chileans living abroad, is quite new," said Hidalgo. "It's just been passed this year.

"It is a fundamental right that a lot of other countries have, that if you're living abroad, if you're working abroad, that you still have that connection to the country, that you should still be allowed to vote in general elections. And finally, this happened this year [for Chileans]."

The right for citizens living and working abroad to vote in presidential elections has been a promise for more than 20 years. Hidalgo said voter turnout in Chile tends to be in the 45 per cent range. 

"So half the people, more than half the people don't vote."

Centre-left presidential candidate Alejandro Guillier conceded the Chilean presidency to  billionaire conservative Sebastian Pinera on Sunday, as Chile followed other South American nations making a political turn to the right.
With 96.31 percent of votes counted, former president and market favourite Pinera had won 54.57 percent of ballots, according to electoral agency Servel, Guillier had 45.43 percent.
Guillier recognized a "harsh defeat" but urged Pinera to continue with outgoing centre-left President Michelle Bachelet's 

Winnipegger Maria Barahona called being able to vote in the presidential election "significant."

"Even though we are many years out of the country, we have a say now in the decisions of who we want to be the president," she said Sunday afternoon.

"Being out of the country for so many years, we feel, or I feel, a little bit far, far in the decisions, far in the daily life of Chileans, but very deep in [our] hearts, we know we are there as part of the decision makers."

While the process was a little complicated, Barahona said she believes the registration process will improve in the future. 

"This process is just a starting thing, that it took many years to came into reality, that people [living outside Chile] could vote, and then now we are having the right to do it."

The South American country does not allow presidents to run for re-election after their four-year term. As a result, Bachelet and President-elect Pinera have been elected back and forth for what will end up being 16 years.

Thousands of Chileans fled during the Augusto Pinochet era. Pinochet took over the country in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973 and was president until 1990. That era was marked by gross human rights violations, including torture of more than 25,000 citizens, unlawful confinement for political reasons and the killings of at least 2,000 people.

With files from the Associated Press