Celebrations in Chile as voters support constitutional rewrite Latin America


Tens of thousands of Chileans took to Santiago’s main plaza to celebrate after people across the country overwhelmingly supported the rewrite of Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution that many see as the root cause of the social and economic inequalities in the country.In Santiago’s Plaza Italia, at the center of last year’s massive and often violent protests that sparked demand for a new charter, fireworks rose above huge crowds of jubilant people singing in unison on Sunday night as the word “rebirth” was projected onto a tower above.

With more than three quarters of the votes counted in Sunday’s referendum, 78.12% of voters opted for a new constitution drafted by citizens. Many have expressed the hope that a new text will temper a shameless capitalist ethos with guarantees of more equal rights to health care, pensions and education.

“This triumph belongs to the people, it is thanks to the efforts of all that we are at this time of celebration,” Daniel, 37, told Reuters news agency in Plaza Nunoa in Santiago. “What makes me the happiest is the participation of young people, young people who want to make changes.”

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said if the country had been divided by protests and debate over whether to approve or reject drafts of a new charter, they should now unite behind a new text that provides “A home for all”.

People play instruments in Plaza Italia on the day Chileans vote in a referendum to decide whether the country should replace its 40-year-old constitution, drafted under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, Chile [Esteban Felix/AP]

“So far the constitution has divided us. From today, we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future ”, he declared in a speech broadcast from his Moneda palace surrounded by his cabinet.

The center-right leader, whose popularity fell to record levels during the unrest and remained in the doldrums, addressed those who wanted the current constitution recognized for making Chile one of the Latin American economic success stories.

Any new project must incorporate “the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come,” he said.

‘A better life’

The vote came a year to the day after more than a million people gathered in downtown Santiago amid a wave of social unrest that left 30 dead and thousands injured.

The scale of the October 25 march demonstrated the scale of social discontent and was a tipping point in protesters’ demands for a referendum. Within weeks, Pinera had agreed to launch a process of drafting a new constitution, starting with a referendum to decide the fate of the current text.

Chile’s current constitution was drafted by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and sent to voters at a time when political parties had been banned and the country was under heavy censorship.

It was approved by a 66-30% margin in a 1980 plebiscite, but critics said many voters were intimidated by a regime that arrested, tortured and killed thousands of suspected leftist opponents. after the overthrow of an elected socialist government.

The free market principles embodied in this document led to a booming economy that continued after the return to democracy in 1990, but not all Chileans shared. A minority were able to take advantage of good privatized services in education, health and social security, while others were forced to resort to sometimes scarce public alternatives. Public pensions for the poorest are just over $ 200 per month, or about half the minimum wage.

Cristina Cifuentes, a Santiago-based political analyst, called Sunday’s results a “blow to conservative parties” and said a new constitution was needed to provide equitable access to health, education and welfare systems. retirement.

“If you were born in the poorest parts of the city, you don’t have access to a good health system, you don’t have a good education, you don’t have transportation. And you can’t even dream of a better life. It affects all aspects of life in Chile and that is why it was so important for Chileans to change the constitution, ”she told Al Jazeera.

Protesters supporting the reform of the Chilean constitution celebrate while awaiting the official results of the referendum at Plaza Italia in Santiago on October 25, 2020 [Javier Torres/AFP]
People kiss as others gather to protest the Chilean government in a referendum on a new Chilean constitution in Santiago, Chile, October 25, 2020 [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

‘New start’

As the votes were counted on live television on Sunday, spontaneous parties erupted on street corners and in squares across the country. Drivers honked car horns, some while revelers danced on their rooftops, and others banged pots and pans. The flag of the country’s indigenous Mapuche people, who will seek greater recognition in the new charter, was omnipresent.

Lucia Newman of Al Jazeera, reporting from Plaza Italia, said the landslide victory gave Chileans something to celebrate after a year of sometimes violent protests.

“Many people know that it will take at least two years to have a new constitution, and that would only set a roadmap for the future. It won’t solve all the problems in this country, but at least it gives them hope for a new start, ”she said.

Four-fifths of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected body of citizens – made up of half women and half men – on a mixed convention of lawmakers and citizens, underlining general mistrust in the Chilean political class.

Members of a 155-seat constitutional convention will be voted on by April 2021 and will have up to a year to agree on a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority.

Among the issues likely to come to the fore are recognition of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche population, collective bargaining powers, water and land rights, and privatized health, education and pension systems. .

Chileans will vote again on whether to accept the text or whether they want to revert to the previous constitution.

The National Mining Society (Sonami), which unites companies in the sector into the world’s largest copper producer, said it hopes for “broad agreement on the principles and standards” that determine the sector’s coexistence with citizens. Chileans and regulatory certainty has allowed the sector to flourish.


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