A year after the social outburst that shook Chile began, a national plebiscite will be held on the 25th of October 2020 on whether or not to change the constitution that has governed our country for over 40 years.
An increase of 30 pesos in metro fares was the straw that broke the camel’s back for millions of Chileans causing, on the 18th of October 2019, Plaza Baquedano to “wake up”. Thousands of protesters convened in and around the square with flags and signs denouncing the inequality that has affected this South American country for decades. Protests continued to take place on a daily basis in different parts of the country, from Arica (in the north) to Punta Arenas (in the south).
There were and still are many demands of the protest movement including decent pensions, more employment, the incorporation of feminism, a clean environment, free education and universal healthcare. In sum, the demands are an end to the neoliberal model imposed during times of dictatorship that has made Chile the most unequal country in the OECD. The ‘social awakening’ which manifested in mass protests left Sebastian Piñera’s government with only one option; on the 27th of December 2019, they called for the writing of a new Constitution.
Presently, Chile is governed by its constitution from 1980, written and approved during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and it still, to this day, is the text upon which legislation and the political system are based. This constitution was approved following a plebiscite which was largely criticised by different members of society for the lack of conditions that would allow for a free and fair election as well as a variety of opinions amongst those who voted. Despite a series of specific reforms since Chile’s return to democracy, the text continues to be integral to the running of the country.
In a historic vote this Sunday the 25th of October 2020, 14 million Chileans will decide whether to replace the current Constitution. In Chile and across the globe different spaces will be set up to allow citizens to decide their future. The ballot will have two questions the first one being: Do you approve or reject a new Constitution
The second question will concern the body that the Chilean people want to represent them in the drafting of the new Constitution. There will be two options. The first is a constitutional convention which will be composed of 155 members who will be entirely elected by citizens (on the 11th of April 2021), a law has already been passed that if this option is chosen, the body will be made up of at least 50% women. This will mark the first constitution in the world to be written with gender parity. The second option will be a mixed convention, made up of 50% of parliamentarians and 50% of citizens elected by popular vote, in the same way as the members of the constituent convention.
In addition to setting a socio-political precedent in Latin America, this election will go down in history for being held in the midst of a global pandemic. For this reason, the authorities, as well as the Election Service, have delivered a series of recommendations and measures to avoid the increase of contagion. These will include creating protected spaces in the voting areas, asking each citizen to carry their own blue pen and having facilitators on the voting sites to ensure these measures are observed.
For now, it is clear that the people’s desire is to vote and that they have waited long enough. The partial results will be delivered on the night of October 25th.
Why these Chileans are voting to approve a new constitution
"A new constitution opens doors to the collective and closes them to indifference. It is time for us to be filled with conviction and actively participate in the decision-making process in our territories." - Silvana, Concepción.
"The reason why I am voting to approve [the new Constitution] is because it pains me to live in a Chile which is this unequal, that does not guarantee rights, and where the responsibilities of the state rest on a system that is highly privatised and neoliberal and has been maintained since the dictatorship at the cost of the deterioration of natural resources, people’s labour, health, education, law, inclusivity and diversity. For me, voting to approve means opening a new door to a democratic process in which it is possible to generate the structural changes that people truly need." - Carlos, San Miguel.
"I am voting for fairness because in Chile equality for all citizens does not exist. [I am voting] so that, with the new constitution, changes will come in healthcare, education, incomes, and that political ideologies, religious beliefs and sexual orientations of all people will be respected without leaving behind our indigenous communities." - Paola, Melipilla.
"I am voting because for the first time we will be given the opportunity for dialogue in which the demands of all are listened to, and we can find a correct solution leaving behind the excuse of institutionalism. We are faced with a unique opportunity to start a democratic process for a constitution in which, for the first time in the world, the new constitution will be written by a body with complete gender parity. I believe that the fight that began in October of last year continues and does not end with this plebiscite but at least it opens up space for conversation and to democratically build a more fair Chile for all, not just for a few." - Antonieta, La Reina.
"Well, I will vote because I dream of a Chile that is fairer and where there are possibilities for all. I dream of a country where recent graduates don’t need experience, we are more careful and conscious of our natural resources and reserves, and, above all, there is a reform in the institutions of national security." - Gonzalo, Rancagua.
"I will vote to approve a new constitution because I believe that it is necessary to implement structural reforms to the foundations upon which Chilean institutions are based. A new constitution is needed that enshrines and provides protection to families in all its forms, to generate mechanisms for direct democracy and so that the authorities are more representatives of the citizenry. In addition, the new constitution will allow for the application of flexible clauses that can be adapted at any time so that the mechanisms that currently make change in the country impossible are dismantled." -Inger, La Serena.
“I approve! Chile has a constitution that was written during the darkest period in Chilean history. Under that concept, it lacks a future vision where socioeconomic and cultural changes must be included. In this regard, it leaves out quality education for each and every citizen of Chile as well as a decent quality of life, health, retirement plans that can be given in equal conditions regardless of one's economic condition.
Today’s constitution privileges a capitalist system and the private sector, increasing economic inequalities amongst our communities and destroying the state and its protection of the nation. It does not consider the protection of our natural resources (water, energy, forests, seas, glaciers, minerals etc). It is a constitution that must be renewed by people that represent each of the sectors of our country and that guarantees that the State is the one that safeguards the wealth for Chile and all Chileans.
Chile deserves to look to the future with new airs and an upright spine which will sustain us for the the coming decades.” - Macarena, Los Andes.