Vote on Chile’s Proposed Constitution: What You Need to Know | Explainer News

Chileans vote to approve a new constitution, the first since 1980, drawn up by military leader Augusto Pinochet.

Millions of Chileans are voting in a referendum to approve or reject a new constitution drafted earlier this year in what could be a defining moment for the country of 19 million people.

The proposed constitution – which took a year to prepare – includes more rights for women, indigenous peoples and working-class citizens.

Although hailed in some quarters as progressive and inclusive, the draft constitution is likely to be rejected, according to recent opinion polls.

The plebiscite, which is mandatory for all electors, is also seen as a turning point for Chile’s newly elected leftist President Gabriel Borich, whose popularity has plummeted since taking office in March.

Voting began at 8am local time (12:00 GMT) and closes at 6:00pm (22:00 GMT) unless there are still voters in line. The results are expected within a few hours after the end of the voting.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why did Chile vote for a new constitution?

  • After student-led protests erupted in October 2019 over rising transport fares, months of demonstrations have expanded to include broader demands for greater social protection and equality in the South American nation. Dozens were killed and thousands injured in the ensuing state crackdown.
  • One of the key demands stemming from the protests was to replace the constitution, which many consider outdated and illegal because it was adopted during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In October 2020, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for a new charter with almost 80 percent in favor.
  • An elected body of 154 people began drafting the new charter, which was then sent to President Borich for approval in July, giving citizens two months to discuss the proposal before voting day on Sunday.
Protesters wave Chilean flags and climb the monument to General Baquedano
Protesters wave Chilean flags during demonstrations against the government of former president Sebastian Piñera in 2019 in Santiago [File: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images]

What is Chile voting for?

  • The draft constitution includes 388 articles that change the political system, the social responsibilities of the state and the rights of minorities.
  • Under the proposed charter, a leader can be elected consecutively once, while the president currently cannot be re-elected.
  • The constitution, if approved, would also guarantee adequate housing rights, the formation of a national health care system and increased employment benefits. Government bodies and public companies, among other entities, must also respect gender equality.
Leaders of Chile's Constituent Assembly hand over the draft of a new constitution to President Borich
Chilean Constitutional Convention President María Elisa Quinteros, (left), President Gabriel Borich, center, and Constitutional Officer Gaspar Domínguez pose with the final draft [File: Pablo Sanhueza/Reuters]
  • The proposal devoted an entire chapter to environmental rights, saying that “nature has rights” and animals are “subjects of special protection”. The current constitution has only one article dealing with environmental protection. Tackling climate change would be a “state duty”, as would protecting biodiversity, native species and natural spaces.
  • Indigenous groups are guaranteed rights to their “lands, territories and resources” as well as reserved seats in representative bodies. The draft text also says that indigenous peoples should be consulted on matters that affect their rights. Under the proposed charter, indigenous groups would be allowed a parallel court system to pursue their cases. However, the Supreme Court of Chile will have the final say on all matters.

What was the reaction?

  • Former Chilean president and former UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the draft constitution a new “social contract” and supported the reforms.
  • Right-wing figures such as 2021 presidential candidate Jose Antonio Cast have campaigned against the proposed charter for months, while others say it puts too much “blind faith” in the state to solve the country’s problems and is unlikely to bring stability or peace .
  • Polls show that the new constitution will be rejected by voters by as much as 10 percent.

What happens next?

  • If voters approve the proposal, the ruling coalition led by Borich has signed a pact to reform and “clarify” some parts of the constitution. There are also 57 transitional articles that will guide the transition from the current constitution.

  • If the text is rejected, Borich, 36, said a new constitutional process should be launched to accommodate the 2020 referendum.

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