Chileans voted this weekend for people not aligned with political parties to form the bulk of a 155-member body that will rewrite a dictatorship-era constitution widely accused of deep social inequality.
A new constitution was a key demand in the 2019 protests that left dozens of people dead, but paved the way for what has been called Chile’s most important election since its return to democracy 31 years ago.
The result of the vote on Saturday and Sunday has been interpreted as a rebuke from the ruling right and mainstream political parties.
President Sebastián Piñera said the result showed that his government and political parties were “not listening to the demands and aspirations of citizens”.
“We are challenged by new expressions and new leadership,” he said.
Independent candidates – with a large platform of pledges and individual campaign agendas – weren’t expected to get much traction, but ended up winning the largest bracket of votes, with around 40%.
With nearly 90% of the votes counted, candidates aligned with left-wing parties received a third of the vote, while the right – in power in Chile – garnered just over 20%.
Most independents “are foreigners, without party affiliation and critical of traditional parties,” said Marcelo Mella, a political scientist at the University of Santiago.
“The political system is being reconfigured,” added Mireya Davila of the Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Chile. “The electoral strength of independents is much greater than previously thought and this confirms that citizens are fed up with traditional parties.”
Left or right?
The country’s existing Magna Carta dates from 1980, enacted during the height of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign from 1973 to 1990.
It promotes private enterprise in all sectors of the economy – including education, health and pensions – in a country ranked among the most unequal among advanced economies.
This inequality was one of the main drivers of the October 2019 protests which led the government to accept a referendum on a new constitution a month later.
On October 25 of last year, 80% voted for a new constitution to be drafted by a body of elected members.
Left-wing parties have campaigned widely for a new constitution ensuring better state control over mineral and other natural resources, and more public spending on education, health, pensions and social protection.
Those on the right largely defend the capitalist free market system which they thank for Chile’s decades of economic growth.
The solid result for freelancers – including many actors, writers, teachers and lawyers who had taken part in the social uprising – leaves no indication in which direction the needle will tip.
“It is … complex because it will be necessary to negotiate with each of the independents and deal with each of their positions,” in the drafting process, Davila said.
On Sunday, Guillermo Guzmán, a 57-year-old architect, said he voted “in the hope of obtaining changes for the country … so that we can build a new constitution very different from the one left by the dictatorship.” .
Polls indicate that about 60% of Chileans accuse the constitution of creating a system that benefits the elite.
“It’s like we’re really starting to get rid of ‘Pinocho, “His shadow, his heritage, everything,” added Carmela Urquiza, a 62-year-old civil servant, referring to the dictator with a nickname given by his detractors.
About 37 percent of the 14 million eligible voters turned out, according to preliminary figures.
A total of 1,373 candidates were in the running and, in a world first, half were, by design, women.
The 155-member drafting group, which will have nine months to draft a new founding law for Chile, will also be made up of 50% women and 17 seats are reserved for representatives of indigenous communities.
The draft constitution will be approved or rejected next year in a compulsory national vote.
Chile has the highest per capita income and the third largest billionaire in Latin America. But the working classes and even the upper middle classes are heavily in debt, often to pay for school fees and private pensions.
Voters also chose regional governors, mayors and local councilors in a litmus test for presidential elections slated for November.
The vote took place over two days to reduce overcrowding during a Covid-19 outbreak that has resulted in more than 1.2 million recorded cases and nearly 30,000 reported deaths in the country of 19 million people.
by Paulina Abramovich, AFP