Mass protests erupted in Chile in October 2019. The row seemed to start over an increase in the bus fare. The protests quickly ballooned to encompass a number of issues, broadly related to inequality. The sometimes violent protests eventually led to a referendum whose focus was to replace the country’s constitution. This was a landmark event in Chile’s turbulent history. Here is a look at the reasons and outcomes of this historic event.
The present constitution of Chile was created during the rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Since then it has been heavily amended several times. The constitution has provided adequate political and social stability since its creation in 1980. However the old constitution is the representation of an autocratic ruler’s agenda. Important adjustments were made to the constitution to ensure fair elections and to curb the president’s powers. Still, many in Chile feel that it makes no concessions for the average Chilean. The Pinochet constitution has faced opposition from the left since the day it was created.
In 2020 the World Politics Review highlighted the unpreparedness of President Pinera’s government to sufficiently address Chile’s civil unrest. In that year protests caused a polarizing divide between a minority right wing and a majority left wing. There are also divisions within the predominant left. However their largely youthful base is adamant about creating a constitution which addresses social divides along the lines of healthcare, housing, pensions, and education. Reuters recently mentioned that these issues may be at the forefront of the constitutional rewrite. Other issues relate to the recognition of the Mapuche indigenous people, water and land rights, and regulations for the mining industry.
Writing the new constitution
The solution to the civil unrest of 2020 came in the form of 2 crucial decisions. These were about writing a new constitution and deciding who would be responsible for writing it. President Sebastian Pinera spearheaded this referendum amid the student protests. In October 2020 the BBC reported that 78% of the voters were in favor of writing a new constitution. It will be written by a body created through popular vote. The minority who voted against rewriting the constitution are descendants of direct profiteers from the Pinochet era. They reside in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Chile.
The new constitution
In April 2021 Chileans will vote to elect the 155 members of a convention which will draft the new constitution. Reuters reported in October 2020 that this convention will comprise men and women in equal numbers. Chileans continue to have misgivings regarding the current crop of politicians. The 155 elected persons will consist of lawmakers and citizens. The draft will be written over the course of a year. The convention will have till January 2022 to release the first draft. Another 3 months will be allowed for any adjustments in the new constitution. After this, Chileans will vote again to declare their acceptance or rejection of the new document.
Chile is home to vast communities of expats. These migrants regularly send remittances to their home countries via the Ria Money Transfer App and other channels. There are also large communities of expat Chileans elsewhere. A recent report by the European Union Global Diaspora Facility said that 3.4% of the Chilean population lives abroad. Most of them live in Argentina, the US, Spain, Australia, and Canada. Chileans living abroad are no less passionate about the monumental political and social shifts which are taking place in their home country. Some might say that being away from home has afforded them a more objective perspective of the proceedings.
In the spirit of solidarity, Chileans in Belgium are getting together to participate as election observers for the overseas voting activity. They have been pre-registered into the electoral roll shortly before turning 18. All Chileans have the right to vote from their current address. Chileans can update their address via the Electoral Service’s website. Then they can log on to find the locations of their relevant polling stations.
The journey ahead is long and arduous. Chileans have been through a lot. The process of rewriting Chile’s constitution has created the potential for social, political, and economic reforms. Finally there is hope to create equal opportunities for all Chileans.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.