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A success for democracy: Chileans vote for a new constitution

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A success for democracy: Chileans vote for a new constitution


The Sunday of the vote will probably go down in the history of the South American country. On 25th of October 2020, the people of Chile voted by a clear majority and with a turnout of almost 50% for a new constitution.

By Anna-Lea Reinhart.

The Chileans fought for this vote for more than a year. What began on the 18th of October 2019 as a protest by students against the increase in public transport ticket prices quickly developed into a social movement calling for social justice and political change. The current constitution of the political system in Chile dates back to the times of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It lacks both important democratic elements such as an appropriate fair electoral system, and representation of the majority of society in Chile. Added to this is the unequal distribution of wealth - which Chile has been able to generate through its economic boom - within the population. In South America, Chile is considered an exemplary country for economic development. This economic and social inequality between the majority of Chile's population and the country's elites is evident in many areas of public life - in the health sector, in education and in old-age provision, to name a few examples. The protests in October 2019 were therefore only straw of emotions and frustration within the population that broke the camel's back.

After the initially peaceful protests were brutally suppressed by the police, serious clashes broke out again and again, resulting in several hundred people injured and dozens dead. In order to calm the situation, the conservative President Sebastián Piñera agreed on November 15th 2019, after weeks of protests and riots, to a referendum on the drafting of a new constitution. The date for the plebiscite was set for 26th of April 2020, but had to be postponed until October due to the corona pandemic.

In Sunday's referendum, the Chileans were not only able to vote for or against a new constitution, but they could also decide on a form of drafting the constitution. With an equally clear majority, the Chileans chose the option of having the constitution drafted by a citizens' assembly without the influence of political decision-makers.

This constituent assembly will be composed of 50% men and 50% women. The indigenous population of Chile should also be involved in the process. The Chileans will be asked to the ballot boxes again in April 2021 to elect their candidates for the constituent assembly. After the members of the Assembly have been elected, the Assembly will have nine months to draft and present a new constitution. This period may be extended once by three months. The newly drafted constitution is to be put to a new vote in a referendum in 2022.

But the Chileans are still far from reaching this point. First of all, the citizens' assembly is to be elected. We spoke to Professor David Altman about exactly how this will be done, what the next steps are and what the people hope for from the new constitution. David Altman is a political scientist for democracy research and professor at the Chair of Political Science at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

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