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Chile to vote on whether to get a new constitution.

Image Credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, Chileans will go out to vote on what is considered to be one of the most important referendums in Chilean history. Chileans will vote on whether they want to scrap the current constitution, and create a new one. They will be asked two questions:

  1. Do you want a new constitution?
  2. What kind of body do you want to draw it up? (Voters have to choose between having a mixed body, consisting of 50% of members from Congress and 50% elected by voters or else one that is 100% elected by the voters.

It is expected that people will choose to have a new constitution, as people are fed up of inequality that plagues the country. This all started back in 2019, after the government decided to hike the metro prices by $0.04, causing an uproar among the Chileans. What started as protests against the hiking prices and evasion of the fare, transformed into huge protests involving hundreds of thousands of protestors against the government, and the constitution, as the public demands a new one.

Chile as a country have managed to reduce poverty in the last two decades, but inequality in this country is considered to be one of the worst in the World. Chileans claim that social rights such as healthcare, pensions and education have been in private hands for a long time, and this needs to change. Healthcare is not a right, and people are demanding for this social right, among others to change to be a right for everyone. They claim that the 1980 constitution concentrates wealth, power and influence to the very few.

The current constitution of Chile was created in 1980, under the military dictator General Augusto Pinochet. It has been updated along the way, but many Chileans believe it is not enough. The dictator General Augusto Pinochet rose to power after a military coup in 1973 overthrew the socialist President Salvador Allende. General Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 till 1990, when democracy was eventually restored. Since than, the constitution of General Pinochet remained in effect, something that the people of Chile want to change.

What’s at stake here is the preeminence of the market over the state on issues of social rights like pensions, health, education, housing..the protection of natural resources, including water, and the recognition of Indigenous people. And symbolically, it is Pinochet’s constitution, which is its original sin.

Claudio Fuentes, Political Science Professor at Diego Portales University.

The referendum was originally scheduled for April 2020, but because of COVID-19 it was pushed to October 2020. Billionaire President of Chile Sebastian Pinera, widely unpopular in Chile, initially said that the government was ‘at war with a very powerful enemy.’ After weeks of protest he backed down, and said that ‘It’s time to listen to the people.’ Protests still continued, and in some cases it turned violent. Clashes with police and rioting resulted in the deaths of 31 people and damage amouting to $1.4 billion, as shopping malls, supermarkets and subway metros were torched by rioters.

Polls have shown that around 70% of the Chileans want a new constitution. Those who oppose such a drastic change claim that it could destabilise the economy at the worst possible time.

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