Chileans called to vote on proposed new constitution

The 15 million Chilean voters voted Sunday in the referendum on the new Constitution intended, if the voters approve it, to replace that inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Long queues had stretched in front of the polling stations even before they opened at 8:00 a.m. for this ballot which must decide whether or not the Chileans want a major change in society. Voting is due to end at 6:00 p.m.

While the latest polls have without exception predicted the victory of the no, the left-wing president Gabriel Boric was among the first to vote, with his father and his brother, in the city of Punta Arenas, in the far south of the country. , facing the Strait of Magellan.

“In Chile, we must resolve our differences with more democracy, never with less. I am very proud that we have come this far, ”he tweeted on this occasion.

Former President Michelle Bachelet, who has just left her post as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and remains very popular in the country, said that if the new constitution is rejected “the demands of Chileans will remain dissatisfied”.

Sunday’s vote should either finalize, in the event of yes, or suspend, if the no wins, the process of a new Constitution begun after the violent popular uprising of 2019 demanding more social justice.

Citizens woke up very early to be able to vote as soon as polling stations opened across the country. “This referendum made me very anxious, suddenly I slept little and I arrived very early, so much the better! said Rosa Gonzalez in Quilicura, a suburb of Santiago.

The current Constitution, drafted under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), is still, despite several successive reforms, considered as a brake on any fundamental social reform.

The neoliberal basis of a model that has enabled decades of stability and economic growth, it has also spawned a deeply unequal society.

The proposal aims to guarantee Chilean citizens the right to education, public health, retirement and decent housing.

She intends to enshrine the right to abortion, a subject that is debated in this country where abortion has only been authorized since 2017 in the event of rape or danger to the mother or child, as well as environmental rights or further recognition of indigenous peoples.

“Conservative vote”

Despite the show of force of the “yes” supporters, who gathered more than 250,000 people Thursday evening in Santiago at the end of the official campaign – against barely 400 for the “no” supporters – the polls predict, without exception, the victory of the “I reject” the proposal for a new Constitution.

“A lot of young people are going to vote, especially in the capital, and these young people are for change. But that does not mean “that the vote of approval will win because it is a loser” in the south and north of the country, “said Marta Lagos, sociologist and founder of the Mori polling institute, to AFP. .

These two regions are experiencing serious problems of violence and insecurity. In the South, due to conflicts over land claimed by radical indigenous Mapuche groups and, in the North, due to the influx of migrants, problems of poverty and human trafficking.

According to Ms. Lagos, the “no” supporters form a “very heterogeneous” group with a strong “populist” fiber fueled by the “fear” of being dispossessed. On the contrary, the “yes” camp has been able to understand how “the new social rights will be distributed”, she says.

“There is of course always a possibility that all the polls are wrong” and that the vote in the capital “could compensate for that in the north and the south” of the country, but “I think that this probability does not exceed 5%” , she assures.

“Many people prefer rejection because they are afraid of change,” Alfredo Tolosa, a 47-year-old worker at a lumberyard in Tucapel, a town of 13,000 people in the Biobio region, told AFP.

New process

A rejection of this proposed Constitution, drawn up for a year by a constituent assembly elected in May 2021 and composed of 154 members, would not mean the freezing of all reforms.

“There is a consensus on the fact that the 1980 Constitution is no longer valid and that we should move on to another” establishing new “social, political and economic rights”, declared to AFP Cecilia Osorio, from the University of Chile.

If the rejection wins, President Gabriel Boric has announced that he will ask Parliament to launch a new constitutional process starting from “zero”, with the election of a new constituent assembly to draft a new text.

According to him, the 2020 referendum, approved by 79%, definitively buried the Constitution of the Pinochet era.

If yes, the new Constitution will come into force in 10 days.

Supporters of President Boric want to believe in a reversal of the situation. “People will vote en masse and the polls will still be wrong,” convinced Senator Juan Carlos Latorre, president of the Democratic Revolution party, member of the government coalition.

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