CHyleans go to the polls today to approve or reject what has been described as the most progressive constitution in the world, which would replace the 1980 document elaborated during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The referendum marks the culmination of three tumultuous years of protests and political upheaval, in which a protest over subway prices turned into a broad uprising against deep-seated inequalities and a disengaged political class.
Many hope the new constitution will lead the country towards a more just future, but the document has been criticized for its wordiness and lack of precision, and polls suggest it may struggle to pass.
The campaigns closed Thursday night after weeks of frantic advocacy.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in downtown Santiago to watch politicians, public figures and musicians defend the bill’s approval.
Nearby, a small crowd of several hundred people brandishing the Chilean flag gathered for the closing rally of the Refuse campaign.
Polls have consistently shown that Chileans will vote to reject the constitution, although the campaign for the proposal has gained momentum as the vote draws closer.
Among the crowds clamoring for a new future under the proposed constitution was Manuela Chateau Vives, an 18-year-old student from Santiago who will vote for the first time.
“It’s very exciting to vote for a constitution that represents the demands we put forward during the protests,” he said, looking across the sea of flags toward the stage set up on one of the capital’s main avenues. “Our generation was the one that jumped the ticket barriers to start this movement, and now it’s up to us to finish it.”
In October 2019, high school students protested against the increase in the subway fare during rush hour by jumping turnstiles at stations around Santiago.
That small act of civil disobedience unleashed a tidal wave of dissent, sparking a political crisis and eventually leading political leaders to agree to a new constitutional referendum. When the vote was held a year later, almost 80% of voters opted for a new document.
The project enshrines gender parity, recognizes for the first time the indigenous peoples of Chile and holds the State responsible for mitigating climate change.
But he has come under fire for his reorganization of the political system, which would replace the Senate with a “chamber of regions” made up of delegates from across the country.
“The constitution has a very strong indigenous bias,” said Cristián Warnken, a speaker and columnist who founded a centrist party to voice his concerns about the proposal.
“The political system [it proposes] it is an experiment – there is nothing like it in the whole world – and the list of social rights will be difficult to finance. Is irresponsible.
Other observers are less concerned.
“It’s a good constitution,” said David Landau, a law professor at Florida State University who has been in Santiago closely following the process.
“There is nothing so radical there. It reflects the tendencies of modern constitutionalism, with a handful of innovative clauses”.
While some international support has been outpouring, the Financial Times, The Economist and the Washington Post have published scathing criticism of the proposal and suggest a rewrite.
Both the outcome and the path to follow if Chileans reject the proposal are far from certain.
Chilean elections are usually voluntary and characterized by low turnout, but in this plebiscite all people over the age of 18 must vote.
If ‘Reject’ wins, President Gabriel Boric has said a new convention should be elected and the process repeated, while the Warnken bloc has suggested a new process but with the inclusion of more experts.
Others have suggested reforming the current unpopular constitution in congress.
If the proposal is rejected, the Pinochet-era document will remain in place while a solution is sought, and Chileans will brace for more protests.
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