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Chilean voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to overhaul a 41-year-old charter with a constitution that would have been among the most progressive in the world.
With 96% of the votes counted in Sunday’s plebiscite, the rejection camp had nearly 62% support compared to more than 38% for approval amid what appeared to be a heavy turnout with long lines at polling states. Voting was mandatory.
The vote deals a stinging setback to President Gabriel Boric, who at 36, is Chile’s youngest-ever president. Boric had tied his fortunes so closely to the new document that analysts said it was likely some voters saw the plebiscite as a referendum on his government at a time when his approval ratings have been plunging since he took office in March.
The proposed charter was the first in the world to be written by a convention split equally between male and female delegates, but critics said it was too long, lacked clarity, and went too far in some of its measures.
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The 388-article proposed charter sought to put a focus on social issues and gender parity, recognize a parallel justice system for Indigenous territories and put the environment and climate change center stage in a country that is the world’s top copper and one of the top lithium producers. It also introduced rights to free education, health care, and housing.
The current constitution – by contrast – is a market-friendly document that favors the private sector over the state in aspects like education, pensions, and health care. It also makes no reference to the country’s Indigenous population, which makes up almost 13% of the population.
The rejection of the progressive charter was broadly expected in this country of 19 million as months of pre-election polling had shown Chileans had grown wary. Still, many analysts and pollsters were thrown off by the large margin for the rejection camp.
The approval camp conceded defeat, with its spokesman Vlado Mirosevic saying: “We recognize this result and we listen with humility to what the Chilean people have expressed.”
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“Today we’re consolidating a great majority of Chileans who saw rejection as a path of hope,” said Carlos Salinas, a spokesman for the Citizens’ House for Rejection. “We want to tell the government of President Gabriel Boric… that ‘today you must be the president of all Chileans and together we must move forward.”
What happens now amounts remains uncertain. Chilean society at large, and political leadership of all stripes, have agreed that the current constitution – which dates from the country’s 1973-1990 dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet – must change.
The process that will be chosen to write up a new proposal still has to be determined and will likely be the subject of hard-fought negotiations between the country’s political leadership. President Boric is expected to meet with the heads of all political parties sometime this week to determine the path forward.
Once seen as a paragon of stability in Latin America, the region exploded in student-led street protests in 2019. The unrest was sparked by a hike in public transportation prices, but it quickly expanded into broader demands for greater equality and more social protections.
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The following year, just under 80% of Chileans voted in favor of changing the country’s constitution. Then in 2021, they elected delegates to a constitutional convention.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.