Chileans vote in referendum on new constitution

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For or against a change of Constitution: the Chileans vote Sunday by referendum, one year after the outbreak of a social uprising of unprecedented scale which called into question the ultraliberal economic model accused of benefiting only the richest.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time, AFP journalists found, and they will close at 8 p.m. They will thus be open two hours longer than usual to avoid crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By mid-morning, the crowd was already very important in front of the voting centers of the capital, where the voters, all masked, had to wait, respecting a distance of one meter.

It's historic, it's moving! I am here for change in our country, I came with my family, we are all moved, explains Marcelo Gana, 29, to AFP in front of a polling station in the capital where many young people are present.

Two women and a man prepare to organize a polling station in Chile.

According to the latest polls, the "yes" would win with a score between 60 and 75% of the vote.

Photo: afp via getty images / MARTIN BERNETTI

After voting early in an affluent Santiago neighborhood, conservative President Sebastian Piñera called on Chileans to go to the polls because every voice counts. We must reject violence and take the path of unity, he added.

Replacing the Constitution inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was one of the demands of the demonstrators who took to the streets from October 18, 2019 to demand a more just society.

The 14.7 million voters are called upon to answer two questions: Do you want a new Constitution? and Which body will have to draft the new Constitution?

They can choose between a Constitutional mixed convention composed of citizens and parliamentarians, and a Constituent agreement formed only of citizens.

A divided population

For supporters of Apruebo (I agree), mainly in the opposition of the center and the left, a new constitution would remove an essential obstacle to deep social reforms, in a country among the most unequal in Latin America.

Since the start of the protest, this is the first real opportunity we have for there to be changes in health, education …, explains to theAFP Pilar Matus, a 47-year-old teacher, who will also vote for the Constituent agreement citizen, a system more inclusive according to her.

Defenders of Rechazo (I reject), which bring together the most conservative parties, believe that it is possible to introduce changes in the fundamental text, in their view guaranteeing Chile's stability in recent decades, without needing to replace it.

It was a country that worked well in Latin America, and now things are bad, we don't want that for our country, said Andrea Benson, 26. It's not worth it to change the Constitution, she said, believing that politicians can change the laws.

Protesters hold a banner in a street and face police trucks.

Two days before the vote, Chileans demonstrated against the government of President Sebastian Pinera.

Photo: afp via getty images / MARTIN BERNETTI

One year after the outbreak of the crisis

Until that date, no attempt to replace the basic text had succeeded: the Constitution had been drafted in 1980 so that the conservative fringes of society could remain in power, even after the end of the dictatorship.

The first objective of this constitutional process is to come out of the shadow of the Pinochet dictatorship, (…) to have a new Constitution without the original sin of having been drawn up under duress, explains to theAFP Marcelo Mella, political scientist from the University of Santiago.

The second goal, he adds, is to to be able to solve by political and peaceful means the problems that have become structural and that paralyze the functioning of Chilean democracy, such as inequality and exclusion.

Consequence of the pandemic and coincidence of the calendar: initially scheduled for April 26, the ballot was postponed to October 25.

It will therefore take place a year to the day after the historic gathering in Plaza Italia, in central Santiago, when 1.2 million people gathered at the epicenter of the demonstrations, marking a turning point in the protest.

Until the onset of the crisis, Chile was praised as one of the most stable countries in Latin America, praised for its good macroeconomic performance.

Triggered by an increase in the metro ticket in Santiago, the protest was fueled by the anger of the population denouncing the disconnection of the elites in the face of the difficult daily life of the greatest number, and caught the entire political class by surprise.


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