Chileans to vote on conservative constitution draft a year after rejecting leftist charter

Chileans are voting on whether to approve a new constitution that will replace the country’s dictatorship-era charter

Mara Verza,Patricia Luna
Sunday 17 December 2023 05:05 GMT

Chileans are voting Sunday on whether to approve a new constitution that will replace the country’s dictatorship-era charter.

The vote comes over a year after Chileans resoundingly rejected a proposed constitution written by a left-leaning convention and one that many characterized as one of the world’s most progressive charters.

The new document, largely written by conservative councilors, is more conservative than the one it seeks to replace because it would deepen free-market principles, reduce state intervention and might limit some women’s rights.

If the new charter is rejected, the Pinochet-era constitution — which was amended over the years —- will remain in effect.

One of the most controversial articles in the proposed new draft says that “the law protects the life of the unborn,” with a slight change in wording from the current document that some have warned could make abortion fully illegal in the South American country. Chilean law currently allows the interruption of pregnancies for three reasons: rape, an unviable fetus and risk to the life of the mother.

Another article in the proposed document that has sparked controversy says prisoners who suffer a terminal illness and aren’t deemed to be a danger to society at large can be granted house arrest. Members of the left-wing opposition have said the measure could end up benefiting those who have been convicted of crimes against humanity during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The new proposed document, which says Chile is a social and democratic state that “promotes the progressive development of social rights” through state and private institutions, is also being opposed by many local leaders who say it scraps tax on houses that are primary residences, a vital source of state revenue that is paid by the wealthiest.

It also would establish new law enforcement institutions and says non-documented immigrants should be expelled “as soon as possible.”

The process to write a new constitution began after 2019 street protests, when thousands of people complained about inequality in one of Latin America’s most politically stable and economically strongest countries.

But in 2022, 62% of voters rejected the proposed constitution that would have characterized Chile as a plurinational state, established autonomous Indigenous territories and prioritized the environment and gender parity.

One of the most recent polls, by the local firm Cadem in late November, indicated 46% of those surveyed said they would vote against the new constitution, while 38% were in favor. The difference was much closer than three months ago when the “no” vote was 20 points ahead of the “yes” side.

In Santiago, the capital, talk before the vote often turned to security rather than the proposed charter. State statistics show an uptick in robberies and other violent crimes, a development that tends to benefit conservative forces.

There appeared to be little enthusiasm for Sunday’s vote. Most citizens are exhausted after 10 elections of various types in less than two and a half years but voting is compulsory in Chile.

Malen Riveros, 19, a law student at the University of Chile, said the fervor that was ignited by the 2019 street protests has been lost and for her, the choice on Sunday was between the bad or the worse.

“The hopes were lost with the passing of time,” Riveros said. “People have already forgotten why we went into the streets.”


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