Chile votes on draft constitution with big changes
“We are clearly in a situation where the result will be close,” said Marta Lagos, head of MORI, a local pollster. “The Chilean is a political animal who decides at the last minute.”
The outcome will have a resounding impact on President Gabriel Boric, 36, who has been a key supporter of the new constitution. Analysts say voters also likely see the vote as a referendum on Chile’s youngest president, whose popularity has plummeted since taking office in March.
Voting is compulsory in the plebiscite, which culminates a three-year process that began when the country once seen as a paragon of stability in the region exploded in student-led street protests in 2019. The unrest was sparked by an increase in the price of public transport. , but it quickly expanded to broader demands for greater equality and more social protections.
The following year, just under 80% of Chileans voted in favor of changing the country’s constitution which dates from the country’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet.
Then in 2021, they elected delegates to a constitutional convention. Amid the anti-establishment fervor of the time, Chileans largely chose people outside the mainstream political establishment to draft the new constitution. It was the first in the world to be written by a convention divided equally between male and female delegates.
After months of work, the delegates produced a 178-page document with 388 articles which, among other things, emphasizes social issues and gender parity, enshrines the rights of the country’s indigenous population and places l environment and climate change at the center of a country which is the world’s largest producer of copper. It also introduces rights to free education, health care and housing.
The new constitution would characterize Chile as a plurinational state, establish autonomous indigenous territories and recognize a parallel judicial system in those regions, although lawmakers would decide the scope of this decision.
In contrast, the current constitution is a market-friendly document that favors the private sector over the state in areas such as education, pensions and health care. It also makes no reference to the country’s indigenous population, which makes up nearly 13% of the country’s 19 million people.
“It’s a doorway to building a more just and democratic society,” said Elisa Loncon, an indigenous leader who served as the convention’s first president. “It’s not like Chile is waking up with all its political and economic problems automatically solved, but it’s a starting point.”
Hundreds of thousands of people packed a main avenue in the Chilean capital Thursday night at the closing rally of the pro-charter campaign, a turnout that supporters say shows a level of excitement that polls do not reflect.
“The polls weren’t able to capture the new voter, and more importantly, the young voter,” Loncon said.
Once the convention got to work, Chileans quickly began to get angry over the proposed document, with some worrying that it was too left-leaning. It is “an imposition by left-wing radicals on society as a whole,” said Paulina Lobos, who campaigned against the proposed document.
Proponents say it was at least partly due to a flood of fake news that spread lies about the draft constitution.
But it wasn’t just about the content of the document. Chileans also grew frustrated with convention delegates who often made headlines for the wrong reasons, such as one who lied about having leukemia and another who voted while taking a shower.
“An opportunity has been missed to build a new social pact in Chile,” said Senator Javier Macaya, leader of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party which is campaigning against the new constitution. “We are defending the option of rejecting (the document) so that we have another chance to do things better.”
Macaya insists that it is important that a new constitution be approved by a wide margin “by consensus and compromise”.
Although Chileans, including the country’s political leaders, largely agree that the dictatorship-era constitution should be rejected, it remains to be seen how that will be achieved if the current proposal is rejected.
“If it is rejected, what is institutionalized is the maintenance of Pinochet’s constitution – this constitution that no longer meets the needs of Chilean society,” Loncon said.