cHellenes are heading to the polls today to either approve or reject what has been billed as the world’s most progressive constitution, which will replace the 1980 document. Developed during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The referendum marked the culmination of three turbulent years of protest and political turmoil, as a protest over subway fares turned into a widespread uprising against deep-rooted inequality and a separate political class.
Many hope the new constitution will lead the country toward a more just future, but the document has been criticized for its length and lack of precision – and polls suggest it may struggle to pass.
Campaigns closed Thursday night after weeks of frantic advocacy.
Hundreds of thousands gathered in central Santiago to watch politicians, public figures and musicians champion approval of the proposal.
Nearby, a small crowd of several hundred people waving the Chilean flag has gathered for the closing rally of the disapproval campaign.
Opinion polls consistently showed that Chileans would vote to reject the constitution, although the campaign in favor of the proposal gained momentum as the vote approached.
Among the crowd calling for a new future under the proposed constitution was Manuela Chateau Vives, an 18-year-old student from Santiago who would vote for the first time.
“It is very exciting to vote on a constitution that represents the demands we put forward during the protests,” she said, looking across the sea of flags at the podium on one of the capital’s main streets. “It was our generation that jumped the ticket hurdles to start this movement, and now it’s up to us to end it.”
In October 2019, High school students protested rush hour subway fare hikes by jumping turnstiles at stations around Santiago.
This small act of civil disobedience sparked a tidal wave of opposition, sparking a political crisis and eventually leading political leaders to agree to a new constitutional referendum. When the vote was taken a year later, Nearly 80% of voters chose a new document.
The project enshrines gender parity, recognizes Chile’s indigenous peoples for the first time, and holds the state accountable for mitigating climate change.
But it was heavily criticized for a change to the political system, which would replace the Senate with a “district chamber” that includes delegates from all over the country.
“The Constitution has a very strong Indigenous bias,” said Christian Warkin, a lecturer and columnist who founded a centrist party to voice his concerns about the proposal.
“political system [it proposes] It is an experiment – there is nothing like it all over the world – and it would be difficult to fund the list of social rights. It is irresponsible behaviour.”
Other observers are less interested.
“It’s a good constitution,” said David Landau, a professor of law at Florida State University who was in Santiago following the process closely.
“There is nothing that extreme there. It reflects trends in modern constitutionalism, with a handful of innovative clauses.”
While some international support has been excessive, the Financial Times, The Economist and the Washington Post have all published scathing criticisms of the proposal and suggested it be rewritten.
The outcome and the way forward in the event that the Chileans reject the proposal is not at all certain.
Chilean elections are usually voluntary and feature low turnout, but in this referendum everyone 18 years of age or older must vote.
In the event of a “no” victory, President Gabriel Borek said a new conference should be elected and the process repeated, while the Warrenken bloc proposed a new process but with more experts involved.
Others have proposed reforming the current Constitution, which is unpopular in Congress.
If the proposal is rejected, the Pinochet era document will remain in force while a solution is sought, and Chileans will prepare for further protests.
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