Chile votes for body to rewrite dictatorship-era constitution

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Chileans head to the polls Sunday in a second day of voting to elect 155 people who will rewrite the country’s dictatorship-era constitution in a bid to address deep-seated social inequality that gave rise to deadly protests in 2019.

Some 14 million people are eligible to vote this weekend in what many consider to be Chile’s most important election since its return to democracy 31 years ago.

More than three million people, or approximately 20.4 percent of the electorate, cast their ballot Saturday, according to the country’s Electoral Service.

Chile’s constitution dates from 1980, enacted at the height of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rule, and is widely blamed for blocking equitable progress in a country ranked as one of the most unequal among advanced economies.

This inequality was one of the main drivers of the October 2019 protests, resulting a month later — after 36 deaths — in the government agreeing to a referendum on a new constitution.

That plebiscite, initially scheduled for April 2020 but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, finally took place on October 25 last year.

And the outcome was unequivocal: 80 percent voted for a new constitution to be drawn up by a body made up entirely of elected members.

This weekend, more than 1,300 candidates are in the running to become a part of history.

Analysts say the election will be a battle between candidates from parties on the left and the right, with independents not expected to draw any meaningful support.

Parties on the left broadly seek greater state control of mineral and other natural resources — mostly privatized since the dictatorship — and more public spending on education, health, pensions and social welfare.

Those on the right, with a nod to the need to boost social support, largely defend the capitalist, free-market system they thank for Chile’s decades of economic growth.

In a world first, half the candidates are — by design — women.

This will also be the case for the 155-member drafting group, which will have nine months to come up with a new founding law for Chile, which will be approved or rejected next year in a mandatory national vote.

Seventeen seats on the constitution-writing “convention” are reserved for indigenous representatives.

Voters will this weekend also elect regional governors, mayors and local councilors — usually a litmus test for presidential elections, next due in November.

Photo: A woman votes at a polling station located in the Providencia School, in Santiago, Chile. EPA-EFE/Alberto Valdés

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