Some 14 million Chileans are called to the polls this weekend to elect the citizens who will write the first democratic constitution in their history, thus breaking with that inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The Constituent Assembly will be equal, a first in the world and will mark profound social reforms following the protest movement of October 2019.
In Chile, on Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 May, key elections take place, where some 14 million Chileans vote to elect from among 1,373 candidates, 155 elected equally responsible for drafting a new constitution for the country. The poll, already postponed for three weeks, was spread over two days to limit the possibilities of contagion to Covid-19, and will also include local elections for mayor, city councilors and, for the first time, regional governors.
“This election will define the Constitution that will guide us for the next 40 or 50 years,” said Claudio Fuentes, scholar at the School of Political Science at Diego Portales University.
This election is “certainly” the most important in 31 years of democracy, he believes, because “a new Chile is at stake”.
Replacing the Constitution drafted in 1980 under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was one of the demands resulting from the biggest social uprising in recent decades that began in October 2019 to demand a more egalitarian society.
The Chileans had voted, on October 25, 2020, by a very strong majority, in favor of a new constitution to replace that inherited from the Pinochet era, in a referendum organized a year after a popular uprising.
“It’s as if we were really starting to get rid of” Pinocho “(the nickname given to Pinochet by his detractors, Editor’s note), his shadow, his heritage, everything”, estimates Carmela Urquiza, a 62-year-old civil servant , residing in Santiago.
The change in the current fundamental law, which severely limits state action and promotes private activity in all sectors, including education, health and pensions, is seen as the removal of a key obstacle to profound social reforms in one of the most unequal countries in Latin America. According to polls, more than 60% of the population believe that the current Constitution has created a system that benefits a select few.
“Chile has the opportunity to achieve its second (political) transition, it will have taken three decades because of the too strong tendency to the status quo of the traditional party system”, explains Marcelo Mella, political scientist at the University of Santiago.
First Joint Assembly in the world
This electoral process is the first in the world to elect a Constituent Assembly on a parity basis, where as many women as men will draft the new Chilean roadmap. It will also mark the history of the country by reserving 17 seats for the 10 indigenous peoples of Chile.
Emilia Schneider, a leading figure in the Chilean feminist movement, is a 24-year-old candidate for the new Assembly and one of the few transgender women to be known to the general Chilean public.
“Today we can bring a way of rethinking democracy in Chile, building a better democracy, deeper, more direct, more deliberative, parity like this process of the Constituent, which will be the first parity assembly of this kind in the world . “, explains Emilia Scheider, who also highlights the daily life of transgender people, in a very conservative country. “We transgender people, women, social movements, have traditionally been groups excluded from politics. (…) We want to give the discussion of this Constitution a feminist perspective on gender and on sexual dissent.”
“Very difficult to make predictions”
The left-wing opposition, scattered over 69 of the 70 running lists, intends to propose a new model for the country, with various social rights guaranteed, such as education, health or housing.
For their part, the candidates of the right in power gathered on a single large list allied to the far right defend the current system, which, according to them, has favored the economic growth of the country.
Predictions on the composition of the political forces that will form the Constituent Assembly are risky, but the difficulty of independent candidates in making themselves known should favor traditional parties.
“There are a lot of new variables at play: this is an unprecedented election in the context of a pandemic, with a parity system, with reserved seats, and with lists of independents. All of this is new. It is therefore very difficult to make predictions, and we do not know for sure how many people will vote “, notes Claudio Fuentes, scholar at the School of Political Science at Diego Portales University.
The ballot is seen by analysts as a litmus test ahead of the presidential election next November. The first estimates are expected early Sunday night.
As for the new constitution, it will have to be drawn up within nine months, which can be extended only once by three additional months. It will then have to be approved or rejected in 2022 by a compulsory vote referendum.