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Thursday, December 11, 1997 Published at 22:04 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Richard Collings ]Richard Collings

The polls have closed in Chile after a day of voting to elect the entire lower house of parliament and more than half the seats in the upper house, the Senate. This parliamentary election the third since Chile returned to democracy eight years ago is seen as a test of whether the governing coalition can break the traditional right wing strong hold in the upper house. But as our south America correspondent, Richard Collings, reports from Santiago the way many senators are appointed still favours those on the right of the political spectrum.

One of the first to vote was former military leader, General Pinochet, who ran Chile for 17 years following a bloody coup in 1973, although no longer head of state he still commands the countries armed forces and his followers continue to regard him as the symbolic leader of the right wing. Parties on the right say they expect to gain seats in congress, the lower house of parliament.

But the real battle ground is in the upper house where a proportion of senators are still appointed outside the democratic electoral process. That measure approved under the former military government continues to favour those on the right of the political spectrum.

In this election the governing centre left coalition needs to gain more seats in the Senate to break that dominance. That in itself has been generally peaceful and the authorities report only a handful of public order offences.

But just two weeks ago there were riots here in the capital of General Pinochet's 82nd birthday. Voting is obligatory in Chile and those who fail to turn up to vote can face heavy fines.

Some people though have gone to great lengths to avoid the responsibilites on election day, there are reports of Chilians locking themselves in bathrooms and even hiding in trees to avoid being pressed into duty as election inspectors.

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