In Chile, voting on the most progressive constitution in the world begins

In Chile, voting on the most progressive constitution in the world begins

In Chile, voting on the most progressive constitution in the world begins

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On Sunday the Chileans go to the polls to approve or reject what has been called the most progressive constitution in the world, which would replace the 1980 document drawn up during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

The referendum marks the culmination of three tumultuous years of protest and political upheaval, in which a protest over subway prices has become a broad revolt against deeply entrenched inequalities and a disconnected political class.

Many hope the new constitution will guide the country towards a fairer future, but the document has been criticized for its verbiage and lack of precision, and polls suggest it may have a hard time getting through.

The campaigns closed on Thursday evening after weeks of frantic defense.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in downtown Santiago to see politicians, public figures and musicians support the proposal’s approval.

Nearby, a small crowd of several hundred people brandishing the Chilean flag gathered for the closing rally of the Reject campaign.

Polls have consistently shown that Chileans will vote to reject the constitution, although the campaign in favor of the proposal has gained momentum as the vote approaches.

Demonstration against the new constitution, in Santiago, 30 August 2022.

Demonstrations against the new constitution, in Santiago, 30 August 2022. Photograph: Javier Torres / AFP / Getty Images

Among the crowd clamoring for a new future under the proposed constitution was Manuela Chateau Vives, an 18-year-old student from Santiago who will vote for the first time.

Related: Disinformation abounds as Chile prepares to vote on the new constitution

“It is so exciting to vote for a constitution that represents the demands we raised during the protests,” he said, peering through the sea of ​​flags at the stage set up on one of the capital’s main streets. “Our generation was the one that jumped the ticket barriers to kickstart this movement, and now it’s up to us to finish it.”

In October 2019, high school students protested against the rise in metro fare during rush hour by jumping the turnstiles in stations around Santiago.

That small act of civil disobedience triggered a wave of dissent, sparking a political crisis and ultimately prompting political leaders to accept a new constitutional referendum. When the vote took place a year later, nearly 80% of voters opted for a new document.

The draft enshrines gender equality, recognizes the indigenous peoples of Chile for the first time and makes the state responsible for mitigating climate change.

But it has come under sharp criticism for its reorganization of the political system, which would replace the senate with a “chamber of regions” made up of delegates from across the country.

“The constitution has a strong indigenous bias,” said Cristián Warnken, a lecturer and columnist who founded a centrist party to voice concerns about the proposal.

“The political system [it proposes] it is an experiment – there is nothing like it in the world – and the list of social rights will be difficult to fund. It is irresponsible ».

Other observers are less concerned.

“It’s a good constitution,” said David Landau, a law professor at Florida State University who was in Santiago closely following the trial.

The dancers perform as part of the campaign closure of supporters of a new constitution, Santiago, September 1, 2022.

The dancers perform as part of the campaign closure of supporters of a new constitution, Santiago, September 1, 2022. Director of photography: Alberto Valdés / EPA

“There’s nothing that radical in there. It reflects the trends of modern constitutionalism, with a handful of innovative clauses “.

While some international support has been expansive, the Financial Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post have all published stinging criticisms of the proposal and suggest a rewrite.

Both the outcome and the way forward if the Chileans reject the proposal are far from certain.

Chilean elections are generally voluntary and characterized by low voter turnout, but in this plebiscite everyone aged 18 and over must vote.

If ‘Reject’ wins, President Gabriel Boric said a new convention should be elected and the trial repeated, while the Warnken blockade suggested a retrial but with the inclusion of more experts.

Others have suggested reforming the current unpopular constitution in Congress.

Should the proposal be rejected, the Pinochet-era document will remain in place while a solution is sought, and Chileans will prepare for more protests.

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