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Voice of America: Chileans Poised to Resoundingly Reject New Constitution

Chileans appeared set to reject a new constitution to replace a charter imposed by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet 41 years ago, a decision that would deal a stinging setback to President Gabriel Boric who argued the document would usher in a new progressive era.

With 72% of the votes counted in Sunday’s plebiscite, the rejection camp had 62.2% support compared to 37.8% for approval amid what appeared to be a heavy turnout with long lines at polling states. Voting was mandatory.

“Today we’re consolidating a great majority of Chileans who saw rejection as a path of hope,” said Carlos Salinas, a spokesman for the Citizens’ House for Rejection. “We want to tell the government of President Gabriel Boric, who during the campaign played his hand in favor of approval, that ‘today you must be the president of all Chileans and together we must move forward.’”

Opponents say document went too far

The rejection of the document was broadly expected in this country of 19 million as months of preelection polling had shown Chileans had grown wary of the document written by a constituent assembly in which a majority of delegates were not affiliated with a political party.

Despite these general expectations, no analyst or pollster predicted such a large margin for the rejection camp, showing how Chileans were not ready to support a charter that would have been one of the most progressive in the world and would have fundamentally changed the South American country of 19 million people.

The proposed charter was the first in the world to be written by a convention split equally between male and female delegates, but critics said it was too long, lacked clarity, and went too far in some of its measures, which included characterizing Chile as a plurinational state, establish autonomous Indigenous territories, and prioritize the environment.

“The constitution that was written now leans too far to one side and does not have the vision of all Chileans,” Roberto Briones, 41, said after voting in Chile’s capital of Santiago. “We all want a new constitution, but it needs to have a better structure.”

Vote weakens president’s plan to reform

The result deals a major blow to Boric, who at 36 is Chile’s youngest-ever president. He had tied his fortunes so closely to the new document that analysts said it was likely some voters saw the plebiscite as a referendum on his government at a time when his approval ratings have been plunging since he took office in March.

What happens now amounts to a big question mark. Chilean society at large, and political leadership of all stripes, have agreed the constitution that dates from the country’s 1973-1990 dictatorship must change. The process that will be chosen to write up a new proposal still has to be determined and will likely be the subject of hard-fought negotiations between the country’s political leadership.

Boric has called on the heads of all political parties for a meeting tomorrow to determine the path forward.

The vote marked the climax of a three-year process that began when the country once seen as a paragon of stability in the region exploded in student-led street protests in 2019. The unrest was sparked by a hike in public transportation prices, but it quickly expanded into broader demands for greater equality and more social protections.

The following year, just under 80% of Chileans voted in favor of changing the country’s constitution. Then in 2021, they elected delegates to a constitutional convention.

The 388-article proposed charter sought to put a focus on social issues and gender parity, enshrined rights for the country’s Indigenous population, and put the environment and climate change center stage in a country that is the world’s top copper producer. It also introduced rights to free education, health care and housing.

The new constitution would have established autonomous Indigenous territories and recognized a parallel justice system in those areas, although lawmakers would decide how far-reaching that would be.

In contrast, the current constitution is a market-friendly document that favors the private sector over the state in aspects like education, pensions and health care. It also makes no reference to the country’s Indigenous population, which makes up almost 13% of the population.

Voice of America

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