Goodbye Pinochet!

Yes to the new Constitution. Chile turns the page, voters voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new Charter, replacing the one inherited from the Pinochet era. When asked “Quiere usted una Nueva Constitución?”, “Do you want a new Constitution?”, More than three quarters of the voters replied “apruebo”, “I approve”.

The request for a new constitution dates back to October 2019 when tens of thousands of Chileans took to the streets, motivated to ask for more welfare and fewer oligopolies. A protest that lasted whole weeks, despite the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Sebastian Piñera’s government dropped to an all-time low of consensus, around 8 percent. The almost definitive results of the referendum – with 99% of polling stations polled – show a landslide victory in favor of yes, with 78.2% of consents. Turnout was around 50%, according to Chile’s electoral authority.

The Chileans also decided, with a majority of 79.24%, that the rewrite work will be carried out by a Constituent Assembly made up 100% of people chosen through a popular vote. The other option, of a body made up of 50% of parliamentarians and 50% of people chosen through an election, obtained only 21% of consensus. Therefore the 155 members of the Constituent Assembly will be chosen in the administrative elections of 11 April 2021, on the basis of a criterion of gender equality and with a representation of delegates from indigenous peoples.

The Constituent Assembly will start its work in May 2021 and the result of its work will be submitted to a popular ratification referendum that will take place in the second half of 2022. If approved, the new Constitution will enter into force immediately, automatically replacing the previous one. President Piñera declared, after having known the broad victory of the yes to the reform of the Constitution, that “the Chileans have expressed their will, choosing a Constituent Assembly that will have full equality between men and women to draft a new Constitution for the Chile”.

“Each vote – he continued – had the same value, citizenship and democracy triumphed, unity over division, peace over violence and this is a triumph for the Chileans. This triumph of democracy must fill us with joy and hope, because we have demonstrated.

There are three pillars of this restart: the first is the rewriting of a new Charter without trauma. That of Pinochet, it should be noted, was born in a context of violence and serious abuse. The second, as Vicky Murillo, director of the Latin American Institute of Columbia University explains, is the “Recovery of the political legitimacy of Chilean society”. And the third, well illustrated by Miriam Henriquez, a jurist at the Alberto Hurtado University, concerns the “Redistribution of powers and public goods”.

As soon as the first screenings were released, thousands of Chileans poured into the streets of downtown Santiago, and many other Chilean cities (Iquique, La Serena, Valparaíso, Santiago, Talca, Concepción and Punta Arenas) to celebrate the victory. In the Plaza Baquedano of the capital, renamed Plaza Dignidad for a year, the demonstrators displayed a huge banner that read “Plaza Dignidad, let’s not forget 1973”, the year of the coup d’état that ended the president’s Unidad Popular government Salvador Allende.

The Covid pandemic, which exploded in the midst of the Chilean protests, has allowed President Piñera to remain in office for the past twelve months, despite the wave of protests having swept the entire civil society.

Paulo Bentu

Visiting Fellow

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