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Constitutional referendum: the Chilean population gave a clear message at the polls

Last Sunday, September 4th, the population of Chile rejected the proposal for a letter prepared by the country’s constituent. With 61, 6% of the votes, the “rechazo” won an overwhelming victory, surprising even the most optimistic opponents of the letter and contradicting the polls carried out in recent months, which pointed to victory in the rejection, but with a smaller margin. Some questions are inevitable and, above all, Chile is plunged into a period of intense political debate about its near future.

The most obvious and clear question is: what explains this result? After all, in 2020, the Chilean population, with 78% of the votes, chose to write a new constitution, rejecting the letter inherited from the dictatorship by Augusto Pinochet. Granted in 1980, she suffers from several discussions about her addiction of origin, as we have already discussed here in our space. It also marks the most violent and authoritarian period in Chilean history. In other words, most voters want to get rid of this inheritance.

In addition to having chosen for a new constitution, it was the Chilean voters who elected the constituents. As a recent third electoral chapter, in December 2021, 55% of voters chose Gabriel Boric to preside over the country, the most elected in Chile since Salvador Allende in 1973, who was deposed by Pinochet’s military coup in 1973. In other words, after three apparent electoral victories for the left, it was defeated, perhaps in the most important vote.

Diversity and lithium

Chile It is a large country, territorially. As Brazil is a continental country, we don’t usually see other countries as big, except for Russia, the USA and one or the other. This territorial vastness translates into richness and diversity, in geography, climate and also in demography. Different sectors of the population will have different interests and perspectives. And that contributes to one of the explanations for the referendum result. Unlike other elections, voting in the constitutional referendum was mandatory.

While just over 8 million Chileans participated in the second round of the presidential elections in 2021, more of millions voted in the referendum. Five million new voters. This is not to say that one or the other is more or less democratic. These are the rules for each lawsuit. Optional voting is sometimes classified as more democratic than compulsory. The fact is, more people voted, more voices were heard, voices that perhaps had not spoken before.

This “silent” electorate will represent Chilean sectors that considered the presented constitution as unbalanced in social representation . The most debated topics in Chile were not economic. For example, the constitution provided for the State’s participation in the exploration of lithium, an essential mineral for the coming years, as it is used for electric batteries. Electric cars, cell phones, computers, etc. need lithium.

Coincidence or not, the editorial of one of the largest newspapers in the US, owned by an e-commerce tycoon who is diversifying its operations into other sectors , like space exploration, spoke of the importance of the Chilean referendum. And he opened the text on this importance by talking about lithium, since a considerable part of the ore reserves is in Latin America, including the Amazon. It was not lithium, however, that most guided the debate on the Chilean constitution, far from it.

Paternal symbols

There were issues such as the abortion of pregnancy and the representation of indigenous peoples. This second point was even very delicate in several episodes, such as the debate on a plurinational status for Chile and the use of national symbols, such as the flag. Issues that, for this Chilean citizen who does not usually participate in the elections, but felt obliged to do so, are not relevant, do not interest him or he is directly against them. In this sense, there is the problem of any vote like this, in which it is “all or nothing”.

A voter may even agree with some agendas, but does not identify with others and, therefore, voted against. These two aspects, the expansion of the electorate and the dissemination of agendas, largely explain the result of the referendum. “A good part”, because if we say that Chile is a diverse country in every way, there is no monolithic answer to this result. Anyone who says that would be misleading the reader. More than right versus left, this referendum was between those who defend total change and those who claim that there are things in Chile today that are worth preserving.

This will be the reasoning that will guide the Chilean politics now. Contrary to what some people may think, the constitution of 1980 was not “saved”. Colombian President Gustavo Petro, for example, even posted on a social network that “Pinochet revived”. In addition to the inappropriate comment on an internal matter of a nearby country, he is wrong. In 2020, the Chilean population has already decided that they would bury the constitution of 1980. It remains to be seen how, but that result remains valid. A new constitution was not rejected, but this draft new constitution.

New constitution

After the result, President Gabriel Boric said that Chile it is a democratic society, which the people spoke clearly and which will dialogue with the party leaders of the congress. Most parties even defend a new constitution and are committed to the process that began with the popular protests in 2019 and at the initiative of the right-wing president Sebastian Piñera. There are several possibilities for how to move forward, including greater participation by Congress.

What changes, however, is that now it is the right that “owns the ball”. The most important thing here is not just the defeat of the new constitution, but the size of this defeat, which will likely translate into political agreements that meet the requests of right-wing parties on social issues, such as pregnancy abortion, indigenous representation and the structure of the State. Much is said about a period of “uncertainty” in the coming months, but it would not be different even with the approval of the new constitution, since it would not magically take effect.

Mainly, any analysis and conclusion on the Chilean constituent referendum cannot forget one thing. This is how representative democracies work. Whether or not you like the proposed letter, or parts of it, it has been rejected by the majority of the population. Full stop. These people need to be heard, especially in their aspirations for a society with a better quality of life for its citizens. Gabriel Boric responded knowing this and now he will have the difficult task of conducting conversations with Congress, to arrive at a new letter that represents Chileans and, finally, bury the legacy of the murderous regime that ruled the country.

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