Chile’s constitution vote

Chileans vote overwhelmingly in favour of new constitution in national referendum

Photo by Faculdades Cearenses on Flickr.

— 2 minute read — By Sam Portillo

A large majority of Chileans voted in favour of rewriting the country’s constitution in a national referendum that came as a result of popular protests for reform.

The current constitution has long been the subject of controversy because of its origins in the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Many historians doubt its legitimacy, owing to the regime’s tight control over the referendum in which it was approved.

Primarily written by Pinochet’s adviser, Jaime Guzman, the 1980 constitution entrenched neoliberal ideas about the private ownership of public services, such as health and education, while at the same time solidifying the regime’s power. It allowed Pinochet to rule for eight years, before having to stand for re-election in another referendum, with the simple choices of “sí” and “no”.

After losing the election to a coalition of recently legalised political parties called the Democratic Alliance, Pinochet stood aside and allowed the transition to a multi-party system. Since then, many amendments have been made to the constitution, including moves to make future reforms easier and restrict the circumstances in which a government can declare a state of emergency.

Sparked by anger over price rises to the Santiago metro, last autumn over a million protesters marched in the capital against what they considered to be financial inequalities which were entrenched by the neoliberal constitution. Clashes between protesters and police led to 30 citizen deaths and weeks of instability. Conservative president Sebastián Piñera agreed to hold a referendum on the matter, originally being scheduled for March 2020 but postponed due to the country’s COVID-19 epidemic.

The referendum involved two questions, the first asking if voters wanted a new constitution and the second asking whether it should be written by currently-serving parliamentarians or a new body of people directly elected specifically for said task.

78 percent of voters supported the move to rewrite the constitution, while a similar majority – 79 percent – said that the constitution should be written by a newly elected “constitutional convention”.

Next year, then, the country will elect members to write the constitution. In 2022, the draft will be submitted for approval in another, maybe final referendum.