Chile faces divided over referendum that could archive dictatorship’s Constitution

Chileans are called this Sunday to the polls to decide if they want to bury once and for all the Constitution that still drags the country from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The campaign has evidenced the division that still persists in society and, if the polls are true, the draft of the new Magna Carta will be rejected.

The renewal process dates back to 2019, when mass protests triggered in October, initially over the rise in the price of public transport, put the government of the then president, Sebastián Piñera, on the ropes. The UN attributed to the security forces almost thirty deaths in these mobilizations.

The so-called ‘social explosion’ ended in November with the Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution, in which Piñera and other representatives of the opposition, among them the then deputy Gabriel Boric, agreed on a road map to calm tempers and overcome the crisis.

Said agreement contemplated the holding of a first plebiscite in which the citizens were to decide whether they wanted a new Constitution and, if so, which body should draft it. The majority of the citizens – 78 percent – were in favor of a Constitutional Convention, which in the end was made up mainly of independents and representatives of the left.

Already with Boric as president, the constituents examined one by one the topics they studied to include in a draft that has a total of 388 articles. The voters will answer this question: “Do you approve the text of the New Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Convention?

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According to the proposed text, the State of Chile becomes considered as “plurinational”, the right of indigenous populations to have a say on matters that affect them is contemplated, and rights on abortion -without expressly naming it– or on housing are put in writing.

The reforms also extend to some of the main institutions, with a structural change in the judicial system and the disappearance of the Senate, reconverted into a House of Representatives in the event of the triumph of the ‘apruebo’.

Boric himself has campaigned in favor of the approval of the new draft, about which he has “a good opinion” even though he assumes that “there are always things that can be improved”, as he himself acknowledged this week in an interview published by the US magazine ‘Time’.

The president has acknowledged throughout the drafting process the apparent disaffection of the citizenry already reflected in the polls, which has ended up translating into a ‘rejection’ advantage. The polls give this option an advantage of up to ten points, although no poll has been published since August 20.

Numerous public faces have joined the campaign in favor of change, such as former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The former president Sebastián Piñera, on the other hand, remains silent, although his entourage has told local media that he is leaning towards a ‘no’ vote.

If the ‘I approve’ vote wins, it will mean the immediate repeal of the Constitution drafted in 1980, regardless of the fact that the new Magna Carta may be open to changes. The Government has already advanced that it will seek a reform to propose, for example, that the President of Chile cannot run for reelection.

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The victory of the ‘rejection’, on the other hand, leaves everything as it is. However, Boric has ruled out that it means going back to square one and opts instead for returning to the 2020 plebiscite, since he considers that the mandate of then “is still in force”.

“If eventually the rejection were to win, which is legitimate, we must continue with that mandate of the people,” he told ‘Time’, which would involve setting in motion again the convening of a new Constituent Convention. “It is not a whim”, he added.

More than 15 million Chileans are called to participate in this process, in which voting is mandatory. The polling stations will open at 8.00 (local time) and will close ten hours later, with the possibility of extending the schedule if there are queues of voters.

The Chilean Electoral Service (Servel) has also organized on the day so that expatriate citizens can participate. Spain is the second country with the most potential voters –more than 11,600–, only behind the United States.

The electoral body establishes that no polling stations may close after midnight in Chile and plans to start publishing the results that same Sunday, as they become available after the closing of the polling stations.

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