Chile prepares for landmark vote on Constitution

An activist holds an “I approve” banner in Santiago, Chile, on October 22.

“Apruebo” or “Rechazo” : “I approve” or “I refuse” a new Constitution. This is the choice that Chilean voters will have to make on Sunday, October 25. This referendum is the main achievement of the social movement against inequalities which started a year earlier. “This is undoubtedly the most important ballot since the referendum [sur la continuité du général Augusto Pinochet au pouvoir] from 1988 “, says historian Julio Pinto, researcher at the University of Santiago de Chile.

Equipped with a blue ball-point pen – the color is compulsory -, the Chileans will therefore vote for or against a new text, and will also decide, in the event of victory of the “Apruebo” (extremely likely, according to polls), who will be responsible for writing it. Either a mixed convention, made up half of parliamentarians and half of representatives of society elected for the occasion, or a constituent convention, formed only by elected citizens.

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This election, conceded by the right-wing government in the face of pressure from the street, should have been held at the end of April, but it was postponed due to the pandemic. The coronavirus has hit hard Chile, the sixth country in the world with the most deaths per million inhabitants. The health crisis, managed erratically by the government, and its economic consequences have, for the demonstrators, highlighted the flaws of the neoliberal system.

“Many people have lost their jobs because they are not sufficiently protected, poverty has increased a lot”, denounces Valita, a 27-year-old photojournalist who also works in a public hospital. In debt over nearly twenty years for her studies at a private university, she will vote “Apruebo” and “Constituent agreement”, “And it’s the same for my relatives, we all want to put an end to this system”.

Remnants of the dictatorship

The Constitution, written in 1980, was adopted by referendum the following year, “At the height of the dictatorship [1973-1990], in a context of repression, fear and electoral fraud, says Julio Pinto, it is about a constitutionalisation of the neoliberal order ”. Reformed on numerous occasions, notably at the end of the dictatorship, in 1989, to remove the most undemocratic elements, then in 2005 under the presidency of Ricardo Lagos (center left), the Constitution, in its current form, preserves despite the whole neoliberal model dear to the Pinochet regime.

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