Chile's draft new constitution was rejected by a larger-than-expected majority of voters in a referendum

After the failure of the referendum, the leader of Chile continues the search for a new constitution

Chile’s draft new constitution was rejected in a referendum by a larger than expected majority of voters – Copyright AFP John THYS

Paulina Abramovich, Paula BUSTAMANTE

President Gabriel Boric on Monday vowed to continue efforts to replace Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution, hours after voters rejected the first draft in the failure of his left-wing reform agenda.

Boric, 36, met the rejection of 61.8 percent of voters “humbly,” he said, adding that there was “latent dissatisfaction” with deep-rooted social inequalities in the country.

Sunday’s majority voted “no” – by a much larger margin than pollsters predicted – was the latest in a wave of recent political and social squabbles in the country.

It started with protests in 2019 for a more just and equal society that led to a referendum in 2020 in which 80 percent voted to replace the constitution.

Last year, a left-wing congress was elected to draft the bill, and in December, Boric took office after defeating a right-wing rival in a campaign against Chile’s constitutionally protected neoliberal economic model.

Many blame the constitution, adopted under dictator Augusto Pinochet, for making companies and the elite richer at the expense of the poor working classes.

Among the proposals that proved to be the most controversial, the text would enshrine the right to elective abortion and guarantee stronger protection for the rights of indigenous peoples.

– Try again –

After an overwhelming rejection, Boric urged politicians to “put Chile above any legitimate differences and agree on the timing and parameters of a new constitutional process as soon as possible.”

He invited representatives of the party to the talks, which will begin on Monday, but no one from the right-wing opposition has indicated whether they will attend.

Analysts say most Chileans and political parties want a new constitution, but not the one they voted for.

The one exception is far-right politician José Antonio Cast — Boric’s defeated rival in December’s elections — who opposes constitutional change.

“The right is divided into more moderate layers that are committed to change and reform … and the most extremist layers, which I believe are not ready for these changes,” said Cecilia Osorio, an analyst at the University of Chile.

The referendum was “disappointing” for civil servant Karola, who said the project was “very progressive on environmental issues” and women’s rights.

It’s “a little difficult” to accept rejection, she told AFP.

But Pablo Valdes, a 43-year-old lawyer among those celebrating the rejection, said the result gave him hope that “tensions will ease.”

The Chilean Stock Exchange opened up 3.65% on Monday, with the peso gaining 3.2% to 885.52 per US dollar.

Boric, Chile’s youngest president, described by his detractors as a “communist”, won his election by promising to create a human rights-based “welfare state” in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

– “Pinochet is alive” –

Proposals to protect the environment and natural resources such as water, which some say are exploited by private mining companies, have received a lot of attention in the constitutional debate.

The new constitution would also revise the Chilean Congress, requiring women to hold at least half of the posts in government offices.

Many feared that the new text would cause instability and uncertainty that could hurt the economy.

But supporters believed it would bring about the necessary changes in a conservative country marked by social and ethnic tensions.

Although the constitution has undergone several reforms since its adoption in 1980, it retains the stigma of having been adopted during Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

The draft of the new text was drafted by an elected left-wing constitutional assembly of 154 members equally divided between men and women and with 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, an ally of Boric, tweeted after the rejection on Monday: “Pinochet is alive in some political circles in America.”

The European Union, for its part, said it “took note of the commitment expressed by President Boric and across the political spectrum to the need to continue the constitutional process.”

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