Chilean constitutional referendum: An overwhelming victory for the apruebo!

By Francisco Salinas

Good news from Chile! Last Sunday 25th October, the Chilean people democratically agreed to approve the process to draft a new Constitution to overcome that imposed during Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1980.

Last week I gave a quick recap on this historical referendum in Chile and about the relevance of a new Constitution for achieving the changes needed by the country. During the referendum, what was at stake was whether the Chilean people wanted a new constitution or not. And we unambiguously wanted a new one! According to the official results, over 7.5 million Chilean citizens voted and the apruebo [approve] option overwhelmingly won with  78.27% of the votes over the 21.73% for the rechazo [reject] alternative. Furthermore, 78.99% of the voters chose to have a process led only by newly elected representatives, dismissing the option that included 50% ofmemberos of parliament.

The process was marked by the pandemic. There was a call for all voters to wear masks and bring their personal blue-ink ballpoint pen to the polling station to avoid contagion. Long queues and a lot of enthusiasm were felt at the polls. Last Sunday’s referendum saw the largest number of voters in the history of the country. Nevertheless, only 50.8% of the electoral census went to vote – probably the COVID-19 crisis affected this number not being somewhat higher. Considering the circumstances, the numbers were not bad at all.

After learning the results, supporters of the new constitutional option all around the country celebrated in the main squares of their cities. In Santiago, the self-proclaimed Plaza de la Dignidad [Dignity Square] was one of the main gathering points, with thousands of people singing, shouting, waving flags, using fireworks and, overall, expressing their happiness at this historical moment. Amidst this celebration, a group of artists and designers projected the word renace [reborn] onto an important building in the area. I think this word represents exactly what the hopes for the new constitution are for many people: a new beginning for Chile, a break from the past enabling undetermined options for a better future.

But that future is still unwritten and requires a lot of organisation to become a positive one. The right seems to have shrunken, but the opposition from the centre and the left has a lot of divisions and finds it difficult to arrive at a minimal consensus. There is a crisis of representative democracy and some people feel that the new constitution should be written by people unrelated to political parties, while others are lobbying to assert their influence through new and old political parties.

A crucial issue is that any decision about the new constitution taken by the constitutional committee will require an agreement of 2/3 of its members. It’s therefore a big challenge to get big majorities in order to be able to make changes, especially when considering that not necessarily everyone in the 78.27% that voted apruebo votes for the left or people pushing for progressive measures. Also, considering that most of the rechazo supporters were right-wingers from President Sebastián Piñera’s coalition and that his government tried to create many barriers to the agreement that put forward this referendum, it is likely that this result may affect his already weakened mandate. 

It still to be seen how these matters develop in the next few months and who will be elected on April 11th 2021 to be the 155 representatives who will discuss and draft the new constitution. At least, after a gender equity parliamentary agreement in March 2020, we know that there will be parity amongst the women and men elected to write this constitution.

The first photo is by the author. Acknowledgements for the second one to Hector Ríos.