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Jubilation in Chile as voters choose to scrap constitution dating back to Augosto Pinochet's dictatorship

MIchael Howie
·2-min read
Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

Chileans have poured into the country’s main squares after people voted overwhelmingly to tear up the country’ s Pinochet-era constitution in favour of a new charter drafted by citizens.

In Santiago’s Plaza Italia, fireworks rose above a crowd of tens of thousands of jubilant people singing in unison on Sunday night as the word “rebirth” was beamed onto a tower above.

With more than three quarters of the votes counted from Sunday’s referendum, 78.12 per cent of voters had opted for a new constitution that many hope will guarantee more equal rights to healthcare, pensions and education.

The vote was called following mass protests against inequality last year that rocked the country and sparked widespread outrage over alleged police brutality. President Sebastian Piñera acknowledged the result and said it was “the beginning of a path that we must all walk together”.

(Chileans celebrating historic referendum. AFP via Getty Images)
(Chileans celebrating historic referendum. AFP via Getty Images)

The centre-right leader, whose popularity ratings plummeted to record lows during the unrest also acknowledged the concerns of people who wanted to keep the present constitution, which dates back to General Augosto Pinochet’s 13-year dictatorship that ended in 1990, and has been credited with making Chile one of Latin America’s economic success stories.

Any new draft must incorporate “the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come,” he said.

"This triumph belongs to the people."

One voter, Daniel, 37, celebrating in Santiago’s Plaza Nunoa

As votes were counted on live television around the country, spontaneous parties broke out on street corners and in squares around the country. Drivers honked car horns as revellers danced on their roofs, and others banged pots and pans. The flag of the country’s indigenous Mapuche people, who will seek greater recognition in the new charter, was ubiquitous.

“This triumph belongs to the people, it’s thanks to everyone’s efforts that we are at this moment of celebration,” Daniel, 37, told Reuters in Santiago’s Plaza Nunoa. “What makes me happiest is the participation of the youth, young people wanting to make changes.”

Four fifths of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially-elected body of citizens - made up of half women and half men - over a mixed convention of lawmakers and citizens, highlighting general mistrust in Chile’s political class.

Members of a 155-seat constitutional convention will be voted in by April 2021 and have up to a year to agree a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority.

Among issues likely to be at the fore are recognition of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous population, powers of collective bargaining, water and land rights and privatised systems providing healthcare, education and pensions.

Chileans will then vote again on whether they accept the text or want to revert to the previous constitution.

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