On Sunday, September 4, in the exit plebiscite, Chileans voted against a new progressive constitution, which was set to replace the current neoliberal one adopted in 1980 under the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
According to the results issued by Chile’s Electoral Service (SERVEL), with 100% of the votes counted, the ‘I Reject’ option received 61.9% of votes. Meanwhile, the ‘I Approve’ option obtained 38.1% of the votes. Voting was mandatory, and 85.8%, over 13 million citizens, exercised their vote.
The demand to rewrite the country’s dictatorship-era constitution was raised during the social uprising against inequality in October 2019. A year later, in October 2020, Chileans overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a new constitution in the entry plebiscite. In May 2021, they elected a majority of independent and left-wing candidates as members of the Constitutional Convention for this responsibility. Nevertheless, the proposed constitution couldn’t appeal to a large share of voters. This is attributed to a widespread misinformation and divisive campaign led by the conservative sectors in mass media and social media.
While opinion polls had anticipated that voters would reject the proposed draft constitution, they failed to predict the landslide result. The last poll ahead of the referendum suggested that 47% of voters intend to reject the proposed constitution compared with 38% for yes and 17% undecided.
When the trend was irreversible, the representatives of the political parties and social organizations that supported a new constitution recognized defeat and assured that they would continue working for a better and equal country.
Deputy Karol Cariola of the Communist Party of Chile, spokesperson of the ‘I Approve’ command, thanked all those who worked for the initiative and called on them to be proud of their efforts. She stressed that the 1980 constitution does not unite or represent the country and reiterated the need to build a path that leads to a new inclusive constitution.
“The teamwork of the ‘I Approve’ command was a great experience and learning, which I appreciate and value. Sometimes you win and other times you lose, that’s how democracy is. The road is now longer. But I am sure that sooner rather than later we will have a new constitution,” Cariola later tweeted.
President Gabriel Boric, who had explicitly supported the new constitution and was betting on it to help him carry out his vision for the country, pledged to continue working with Congress and civil society to come up with a “new constitutional process.”
In an address to the nation, Boric said that “Chileans’ decision demands our institutions and political leaders to work harder, with more dialogue, respect and care, until we reach a proposal that reflects us all, gives us confidence and unites us as a country. As president of the republic, I take this message with great humility. We must listen to the voice of the people.”
“I commit myself to do my best to build, together with the National Congress and the civil society, a new constituent itinerary that gives us a text that, gathering the learnings of this process, manages to interpret a wide citizen majority,” he vowed.
In this regard, he added that he would “meet with the presidents of both chambers of Congress and with other authorities to outline the guidelines that will allow a new constitutional process to begin.”
The now-rejected draft would have declared Chile a “plurinational” state, recognizing the rights of Chile’s indigenous populations, which make up almost 13% of the population, to their lands and resources, as well as their right to autonomy and self-determination for the first time in the country’s history. It would have addressed the country’s harsh inequalities, expanding social rights such as free healthcare, free higher education, affordable housing and decent pensions, thereby empowering the marginalized sectors. It also would have enshrined gender equality in all public institutions and companies, recognized domestic work, legalized abortions, and acknowleged the rights of gender-diverse people in a country where half of the population is Roman Catholic. In addition, it would have guaranteed protection of the environment, directing the state to combat climate change, and recognize water rights, in a country whose economy’s large part depends on copper and lithium extraction and production.
Several political and social leaders from across sectors, including some of those who led the campaign to reject the new charter, have called for a new constitutional convention to be convened, pointing out that the text of the proposed constitution was rejected, not the desire to have a new constitution.