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Chileans again reject new constitution

By SERGIO HELD and GERMAN SANCHEZ in Bogota | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-20 10:15
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A woman sells newspapers covering the referendum of a new constitution in Santiago, Chile, on Monday. IVAN ALVARADO/REUTERS

Chileans rejected a new constitution in a referendum on Sunday, highlighting ongoing polarization in the Latin American country. It is the second proposed reform rejected in two years.

With almost all votes counted, 55.76 percent of Chileans voted against the new text while 44.24 percent voted for it. The result means that Chile will retain its constitution adopted in 1980 during the rule of Augusto Pinochet, which is blamed for being in favor of companies and the elite.

The door is closed for now to a modification of the current constitution, Carlos Adasme, former mayor of Maipo Island, told China Daily.

"What the citizens have indicated to us and what the citizens have indicated to the political class is that they are not satisfied. The proposals made do not fit with the citizens' feelings, therefore, they reject these alternatives and they hope that the political class will start working on those issues that are relevant today," he said, calling pension, health, education and public safety matters of great concern.

President Gabriel Boric said the country has become polarized and divided, noting that the government would not try to rewrite the constitution a third time, but would instead seek to reform the country's tax and pension systems.

"What the citizenry is demanding is a better capacity for dialogue, of consensus, but most of all, of action," Boric said during a television address after the results were announced.

The plebiscite was nationwide, with mandatory voting for 15.4 million people, of which 13 million went to the polls.

The effort to rewrite the country's constitution started in 2019 after protests, sometimes violent, against inequality. The first text guaranteed a long list of rights and freedoms, as well as making sweeping changes to the country's judicial and political systems. It was rejected by about 61 percent of voters in September last year.

The 2022 draft would have drastically altered the nation's basic principles, erasing long-standing South American customs, Pamela Pizarro, executive director of Cuide Chile, told China Daily at the time.

The second proposed text was considered more conservative, in some ways, than the existing constitution.

Indicators seen

"This plebiscite is a second plebiscite that we have had as a result of a crisis of violence … where the stability of our country has been affected and this is practically traceable from the economic or social indicators of the last four years," Javier Silva, political analyst at think tank Astral Citizen Foundation, told China Daily.

Critics said the proposed text failed to protect indigenous rights, restrictions on reproductive rights, and enshrined private sector participation in the provision of services such as health, education and pension.

"I voted rejection to change the constitution … and I will vote rejection against a constitution that enshrines principles of the radical left," Teresa Marinovic, a columnist, politician and member of the 2022 Constitutional Convention, said ahead of the recent referendum.

After last year's failure, a new constitutional convention was elected in May to draft a different text.

The latest draft was handed over to Boric and the Chilean public on Nov 7, marking the beginning of a nationwide debate and discussion on the proposed constitution.

The writers are freelance journalists for China Daily.

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