InternationalPolitics

Jubilation as Chile votes to rewrite constitution

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There have been jubilant scenes in Chile after an overwhelming majority voted in support of rewriting Chile’s constitution, which dates to the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet.

With almost all the ballots counted, 78% had voted “yes” in a referendum that was called after mass protests against inequality.

President Sebastián Piñera praised the peaceful vote.

He said it was “the beginning of a path that we must all walk together”.

Right-wing President Piñera agreed in November 2019 to hold the referendum after a month of huge and almost daily protests across Chile which saw more than a million people take to the streets in the capital, Santiago.

The protests, which had originally been triggered by a fare hike on the Santiago metro, drew a wide variety of Chileans who shared an anger about the high levels of inequality in Chile onto the streets.

One of their key demands was to reform the old dictatorship-era constitution, which they argued entrenched inequalities by putting the private sector in control of health, education, housing and pensions.

The referendum, which was originally due to be held in April, was postponed to October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The referendum asked Chileans two questions: firstly, if they wanted a new constitution, and secondly, what kind of body they would want to draw it up.

Election officials said almost 7.5m Chileans turned out to cast their vote, the highest turn-out since the 1989 election which brought an end to military rule.

With almost all the votes counted, more than 78% voted in favour of a new constitution.

An overwhelming majority of 79% also voted in favour of the new constitution being drawn up by a body which will be 100% elected by a popular vote rather than one which would have been made up by 50% of members of Congress.

President Piñera acknowledged that the current constitution had been “divisive” and urged Chileans to “work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future”.

He also praised the democratic nature of the vote: “Today citizens and democracy have triumphed, today unity has prevailed over division and peace over violence. And this is a triumph for all Chileans who love democracy, unity and peace, without a doubt.”

Those who had campaigned in favour of the “yes” vote took to the streets en masse to celebrate.

One of those celebrating, Juan Pablo Naranjo, told Reuters news agency that he was grateful to the youth who had started the protest: “If it were not for the brave young people who fought for us, no one would have gone out on to the streets. I had wanted this to happen for a long time and it happened and thanks to them, today we have won.”

Another said that “we are giving birth to a new constitution and we are leaving behind the constitution of Pinochet and his entourage.”

Senator Juan Antonio Coloma, who led the campaign for the “no” vote, admitted defeat, saying that the referendum had “clearly taken a different turn from what we’d hoped”.

BBC

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