Chile votes for the body to rewrite the dictatorship’s constitution

Chileans will go to the polls on a second day of voting on Sunday to elect 155 people who will rewrite the country’s constitution from dictatorship in an effort to address the deep-seated social inequality that sparked deadly protests in 2019.

About 14 million people will be eligible to vote this weekend in what many consider Chile’s most important election since its return to democracy 31 years ago.

More than three million people, or about 20.4 percent of voters, voted on Saturday, according to the country’s electoral service.

“I hope we have a constitution that captures the soul of our nation,” said President Sebastian Pinera after casting his vote in the capital, Santiago.

Silvia Navarrete, a 35-year-old economist, was at a polling station in Santiago with her young daughter in her arms. She said she voted for a system that “works for everyone, makes all voices heard” and ensures that “rights and obligations are truly fair to all people”.

And 40-year-old university professor Carlos Huertas said his vote went to candidates who had been active in “this social revolution” – referring to the 2019 protests.

Chile’s Constitution dates back to 1980 and was passed at the height of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign from 1973-1990, and has been widely blamed for blocking just progress in a country considered one of the most unequal among the developed economies.

This inequality was one of the main causes of the October 2019 protests, which a month later – after 36 deaths – led to the government agreeing to a referendum on a new constitution.

That plebiscite, initially scheduled for April 2020 but postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, eventually took place on October 25 last year.

And the result was unequivocal: 80 percent voted in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a body made up entirely of elected members.

Gender equality

This weekend, more than 1,300 candidates have a chance to be part of history.

Analysts say the election will be a battle between candidates from left and right parties, and independents are not expected to receive any meaningful support.

Parties on the left are broadly seeking more state control over mineral and other natural resources – mostly privatized since the dictatorship – and more government spending on education, health, pensions and social services.

Those on the right, with a nod to the need to increase social support, are largely defending the capitalist, free-market system they thank for Chile’s decades of economic growth.

In a world first, half of the candidates are – by definition – female.

This will also be the case for the editorial group of 155 members, which will have nine months to come up with a new founding law for Chile, which will be approved or rejected by a mandatory national vote next year.

Seventeen seats at the “convention” for writing the constitution are reserved for indigenous representatives.

Voters will also elect regional governors, mayors and city councilors this weekend – usually a litmus test for presidential elections, due in November.

Rich, but uneven

Campaigning is complicated amid a Covid-19 outbreak that has resulted in more than 1.2 million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths in the country of 19 million people, with the pandemic deciding on the two-day format of the election.

Chile has one of the highest vaccination rates in South America, with more than 48.5 percent of the 15.2 million targeted residents receiving two doses to date.

The country has the highest per capita income and the third most multi-millionaires in Latin America. But the working class and even the upper middle class live in heavy debt, often to pay for schooling and private pensions.

A February OECD report said that “persistent high inequality” was a major challenge for Chile, with 53 percent of households considered economically fragile and the poorest 20 percent of households earning only 5.1 percent of total income.

There is a low level of satisfaction with quality of life.


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