SANTIAGO – Chileans decided on Sunday by an overwhelming majority to replace their controversial constitution drafted during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which caused violent mass protests in October 2019.
Seventy-eight percent of Chileans approved the move with 87 percent of votes counted. They also voted by 79 percent – according to the country’s polling authorities – for the new charter to be drafted via constitutional convention, comprising citizens solely elected for that purpose.
“Today Chileans have freely expressed their will through the ballot box, choosing the option of a constituent convention, for the first time with full equality between men and women, to agree on a new constitution for Chile,” the country’s President Sebastian Piñera said in a public speech.
Only 20 percent voted for the new charter to be written by a mixed convention of parliamentarians and elected citizens.
The 155 people who will make up the citizen convention to draft the constitution will be elected by popular vote on April 11 and have a nine-month margin, extendable only once by three more months. The charter will then require approval in a mandatory 2022 popular vote.
More than 14.7 million Chileans were called to the polls in a vote held during the coronavirus pandemic and conducted amid sanitary restrictions and protocols to avoid contagion. It was originally scheduled for April but was postponed until Sunday following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The referendum was the result of a political agreement between the ruling party and almost all opposition forces to assuage the serious wave of protests held last year against inequality and in favor of better basic services. While the mass rallies were mostly peaceful, demonstrations also produced episodes of extreme violence and police repression, causing at least 30 deaths and thousands of injuries.
The left-wing opposition was in favor of change at all times, while the four right-wing parties that make up the government coalition were divided, between those who defended constitutional change at all costs and those who supported amendments to the current charter.
Those favoring change believe the current constitution causes great inequality by promoting the privatization of basic services, while detractors say Chile registered its greatest growth period under this framework and that problems are solved with new laws, not a new charter.
Piñera did not make his vote public and simply encouraged participation while asking his cabinet not to participate in public events supporting either option.
Since the afternoon, the central Plaza Italia in Santiago filled with thousands of people awaiting the result and celebrating early as the vote to draft a new charter became clear, celebrations that continued countrywide as of press time.