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A new Chilean constitution must remember its origins and people

  • 03 November 2020
Contrary to the narrative disseminated by Chile’s right-wing government, the protests which started in October 2019 and attracted nationwide mobilisation were not about the hike in metro prices. Against a backdrop of growing calls to abolish the dictatorship referendum, which provided impunity for governments since the democratic transition in 1981 onwards, President Sebastian Piñera resorted to military tactics reminiscent of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Mass arrests, sexual abuse, killings, and the military’s maiming of demonstrators by firing rubber bullets at the eyes, causing permanent injuries including loss of vision, provided insight into how a democratically-elected government was able to incorporate dictatorial legacy with scant international condemnation.

One year later, Chilean voters proved their resilience to change their society and the inequalities inherent since their country became an experimental playground for neoliberalism and militarisation with US backing. The referendum to abolish the 1980 dictatorship-era constitution was a resounding victory for the Chilean left and the Indigenous population; the latter historically misrepresented, criminalised and marginalised, with only a brief period of political respite when Salvador Allende was elected president. The Apruebo (approval) vote to abolish the constitution garnered 78.27 per cent, while 78.99 per cent voted for a constitutional assembly to draft the new legislation.

The Mapuche presence was a prominent feature during the 2019 protests. A constituent assembly to draft the new constitution inclusive of Mapuche representatives would at last allow for political Indigenous representation.

The Constitutional Assembly will include 155 Chilean representatives who will be tasked with drafting a proposal for the new constitution, which must be presented in a year’s time and put to the vote. Another victory for Apruebo would abolish the dictatorship constitution permanently and the new constitution would be implemented within 10 days of the vote.

Over 50 per cent of the Chilean electorate voted in the October 25 referendum. The largest recorded turnout prior to last Sunday’s was in 2012. The current elections were hampered by COVID-19, as well as restrictions on the workforce, such as miners, and violations of political rights. It is estimated that more than 100,000 miners were unable to exercise their right to vote in the referendum as a result of their work schedule.

The electoral turnout contrasts sharply with Chile’s 2017 presidential elections, in which 48.5 percent of eligible voters participated. With such a low turnout which was attributed to the Chilean left’s disillusion with their political options, Piñera garnered over 54 percent