Chile votes in a plebiscite on Sunday to decide whether to adopt the new constitution drafted last year – Copyright AFP MARTIN BERNETTI
Paulina Abramovich, Paula BUSTAMANTE
Chileans head to the polls on Sunday to choose whether to accept a new constitution that aims to transform a market society into a more wealth-based society while introducing sweeping institutional reforms.
Although Chileans have previously voted en masse to rewrite the current constitution, adopted in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, opinion polls show that the new text will be rejected.
The social upheaval that began in 2019, when tens of thousands of people demanded a more just society, prompted a revision of the constitution, but several points of the proposed 388-article draft proved contentious.
“I will reject it because this constitution started badly,” Maria Angelica Ebnes, a 66-year-old housewife, told AFP in Santiago.
“It was forced, through violence.”
In October 2019, protests erupted mainly in the capital, led by students initially outraged by the proposed increase in metro fares.
These demonstrations have escalated into wider dissatisfaction with the country’s neoliberal economic system, as well as rising inequality.
Although polls predict the new constitution will be rejected, its supporters still harbor hope, not least because of what they see on the streets.
On Thursday evening, about 500,000 people turned up for the official closing of the “endorsement” campaign in Santiago, while no more than 500 people came to the “rejection” meeting.
“People will go to vote en masse and the polls will be wrong again,” said Juan Carlos Latorre, an MP from the ruling coalition of left-wing President Gabriel Boric, who supports the new text.
More than 15 million Chileans are eligible to vote in the mandatory referendum.
Their main concern is the attention paid to the country’s indigenous peoples, who make up about 13 percent of the 19 million population.
Proposals to legalize abortion and protect the environment, as well as natural resources such as water, which are reportedly exploited by private mining companies, have also attracted a lot of attention.
The new constitution will also overhaul Chile’s government, replacing the Senate with a less powerful “chamber of regions” and requiring women to hold at least half of government positions.
– 5% chance to “approve” –
While in recent polls the vote “reject” has led by as much as 10 percentage points, pollster Martha Lagos believes “endorsement” could still win.
In the vast Santiago metropolitan area, most people are likely to vote in favor of the new constitution, Lagos said, although parts of the city, especially in northern and southern areas, are largely opposed to the changes.
“There’s always the possibility that all the polls are wrong and in fact the ‘endorsement’ advantage in Santiago can offset the disadvantage in the north and south,” Lagos told AFP.
“I don’t think this probability is over five percent, and ‘deviation’ has a 95 percent chance of winning.”
But what she is sure of is that “the gap will not be 10 points, as the three surveys published over the past two weeks say.”
A simple majority is required to pass a new constitution.
Last week, some 40 world-renowned economists and political scientists expressed their support for the new constitution.
However, some fear that the new text will cause instability and uncertainty, which could then hurt the economy.
“What you’re seeing is a certain conservatism in the Chilean electorate that we haven’t seen in years,” Lagos said.
It was definitely muted last December when millennial Boric was elected president.
– Indigenous Controversies –
Supporters of the new constitution say it will bring about major changes in a conservative country marked by social and ethnic tensions and lay the foundation for a more egalitarian society.
They say the current constitution has given free rein to private enterprise in critical industries and created fertile ground for the rich to prosper and the poor to struggle.
Although the 1980 constitution has undergone several reforms since its adoption, it retains the stigma of having been adopted during a dictatorship.
Chileans have already voted once to rewrite the constitution and then again to elect representatives to do so, making Sunday’s vote the third time they’ve gone to the polls on the issue in just two years.
The new text was drafted by a constitutional assembly of 154 largely non-political members, equally divided between men and women, and with 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples.
The resulting proposal recognizes 11 indigenous peoples and offers them greater autonomy, especially in judicial matters.
This is the most contentious point, as some critics accuse the authors of trying to turn traditionally marginalized indigenous peoples into a higher class of citizens.
If passed, the Chilean Congress will begin to decide how to apply the new laws.
If the new text is rejected, the current constitution will remain in effect.