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  • Chile protests

Media signatureCelebrations for Chile after the vote on the constitution *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

There were cheering scenes in Chile after an overwhelming majority voted for the revision of the Chilean constitution, which dates back to the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet.

For almost all ballot papers 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”.

How did we get here?

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

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionSupporters of the “yes” vote celebrated their victory in the streets of Valparaiso and other cities

The protests, which were originally triggered by a price increase in the subway in Santiago, drew a large number of Chileans onto the streets, angry about the high inequality in Chile.

One of their main demands was the reform of the old dictatorship-era constitution, which they believed to be entrenched inequalities, with the private sector taking control of health, education, housing and pensions.

The referendum, which was originally supposed to take place in April, has been postponed to October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What did the Chileans vote on?

The referendum asked Chileans two questions: first, if they wanted a new constitution, and second, what kind of body they wanted to draft.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionThe referendum was one of the protesters’ main demands

Election officials said nearly 7.5 million Chileans cast their vote, the highest turnout since the 1989 elections that ended military rule.

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With almost all votes, more than 78% voted for a new constitution.

An overwhelming majority of 79% also voted in favor of the drafting of the new constitution by a body that is elected 100% by popular vote and not by a body made up of 50% members of the Congress.

What was the reaction like?

President Piñera acknowledged that the current constitution was “divisive” and called on Chileans to “work together so that the new constitution provides the grand framework for unity, stability and future”.

He also praised the democratic nature of the vote: “Today citizens and democracy have triumphed, today unity has overcome division and peace has overcome violence. And this is undoubtedly a triumph for all Chileans who love democracy, unity and peace.”

Celebrate, but hard work has only just begun

When the results came in, the word REBIRTH was projected onto a building in downtown Santiago.

For so many Chileans, this is exactly what this vote represents: farewell to a constitution from the dictatorship and hello to a new beginning that people find more suitable for a modern democracy.

Sunday’s vote is a tumultuous year for Chile – and that vote is the result of months of mass protests demanding significant changes.

But in a way, the hard work has only just begun as it sets in motion an entirely new process in which the Chileans now have to decide who will draft the constitution and what to say.

The cheers on this evening are uplifting, but the demands are diverse and the expectations are high.

Those who voted “yes” took to the streets en masse to celebrate.

One of the celebrants, Juan Pablo Naranjo, told Reuters news agency he was grateful to the youth who started the protest: “If it hadn’t been for the brave young people who fought for us, no one would have gone to church I wanted It’s been a long time since this happened and thanks to them we won today. “

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

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

What happens next?

Voters will return to the polls on April 11, 2021 to select the 155 people who make up the convention that will draft the new constitution.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionThe old constitution dates from the time of Gen Pinochet, who overthrew President Allende, whose cardboard cutout was being led through the streets of Valparaiso

The convention has nine months, with the option of a one-time extension of three months to prepare a new text.

The new constitution will then be presented to the Chilean people in another referendum in 2022.

What do Chileans want from their new constitution?

In Chile, poverty has fallen dramatically over the past 20 years. Today it is the richest country in South America per capita. But it remains one of the most unequal nations in the world, and many Chileans want the country’s wealth to be more evenly distributed.

Fernanda Namur told the BBC that she wanted the new constitution “to represent our lower classes and give them a chance to fight in this seemingly rigged game through decent education and accessible medical care”.

In the meantime, Mario Bustos Mansilla told the BBC: “I want our fundamental rights, which for me are education, healthcare and housing, to be recorded in writing.”

Mr Bustos’ demands were confirmed by Pamela Charad, who said she wanted “better health care and education for all”.

“The country is like a pressure cooker that has exploded,” said Ms. Charad of the protest months in 2019 and early 2020, in which more than 30 people died.

“This is our chance to get things right.”

Is this likely to change anything?

The overwhelming “yes” is a clear victory for those who have joined the anti-inequality protests over the past year, even in the face of police repression.

While many constitutional experts say this is only the first step towards change, it is not the first time Chileans have achieved change through a referendum. In October 1988, the Chileans voted “No” to Gen Pinochet and extended his military rule for another eight years.

The Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin won the 1989 presidential election and Gen Pinochet resigned as president in 1990.

More information on the 1988 referendum can be found here:

Media signatureWitness: Chile No campaign

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