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Constitutional referendum in Chile: "We must not leave the process to the politicians"


High voter turnout, clear vote: The Chilean constitution from dictatorship times will be abolished. The population is celebrating their victory - and, out of distrust of the elites, urges them to be vigilant.

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Protesters in Santiago de Chile: "Keep up the pressure on the streets"



The polling stations were not closed yet, as the first of the many questions this Sunday in Chile had already been answered.

The demonstrators won the tug of war for sovereignty over Plaza Italia in the center of Santiago.

After the police had defended this symbolic place for hours with tear gas and water cannons, they withdrew at 7 p.m. and left the place, popularly known as the "Place of Dignity", to the population.

This is where the struggle over the new constitution was concentrated last year.

The Chileans had been moving here in droves since the afternoon to celebrate the outcome of the plebiscite, the outcome of which was even clearer than predicted.

With fireworks and flags, chants and hugs - despite the pandemic - they transformed the place of dignity into a place of bliss.

In the end, over 78 percent of the electorate voted for the abolition of the constitution, which was drafted in 1980 by the lawyers of the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

And which also laid down the neoliberal economic and social model in Chile after the transition to democracy in 1990.

A new Basic Law should now lay the foundation for a fair and solidarity country. 

This is to be worked out by a constituent assembly, whose 155 members will be elected in April.

The alternative that half of the body should consist of members of parliament and the other half of elected representatives fell through with just 21 percent.

Distrust of the political system

"The Chileans' distrust of the political system is deeper than the politicians suspect," says Claudia Heiss, political scientist at the Universidad de Chile.

This referendum was won on the street and completely independently of the parties.

The historical aspect of this process is not only that the Magna Charta was largely fought for by the people, but also that the Constituent Assembly must have equal representation between men and women.

However, it remains unclear to what extent the candidate lists will open up to members of civil society.

For years, Chile was considered a model for success in Latin America - but economic growth came at the expense of the poor

President Sebastián Piñera addressed the people in the evening: "This is a triumph for all Chileans, who we love democracy, unity and peace," said the right-wing head of state, who had long resisted the plebiscite.

According to the electoral authority Servel, voter turnout was over 50 percent, the highest since the return to democracy. 

This Sunday a lot had been different from previous polls in Chile.

Traffic jams occurred in Santiago.

The lines in front of many polling stations were also considerable.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Sara Luengo, an election worker in the Quilicura community in northern Santiago, to SPIEGEL.

"Young people in particular have been voting since early this morning."

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Voting in the pandemic: The turnout was significantly higher than in other votes


The lawyer Tatiana Maldonado also went to the polls for the first time at the age of 31.

"In previous elections it didn't matter which party or which candidate I voted for. With this constitution, no real changes could be achieved. Today is something historical that can bring our country forward," says the young woman.

"The state must finally take on more care and not leave everything to the private sector."

In Chile there are hardly any fixed employment contracts, most people work on a fee basis or on a temporary basis, and there is no right to strike.

In addition, Maldonado criticizes that education and health are unaffordable and the pension funds are being privatized.

"It's absurd that you have to take out loans in Chile in order to be able to pay other loans." 

Elites benefit from the current constitution

For many years the development of Chile was considered a success model in Latin America because the economy grew steadily and poverty was reduced.

But the rise was based on a teaching that brought many people to the brink of ruin.

A model that the "Chicago Boys" designed around the economist Milton Friedman and in which the private sector has all rights but hardly any obligations, resources can exploit at will and in which even the water is privatized.

A system that gives the strong a lot of freedom, but does not guarantee the weak any fundamental rights.

The current constitution is a textbook on social inequality and dissatisfaction with democracy.

This is one of the reasons why, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Chileans, this Sunday is not the end but the beginning of a process.

Now more questions arise: Who is allowed to write the new constitution?

How will the 1.5 million Mapuche natives, who make up a tenth of the population and have been disenfranchised for centuries, be integrated?

"Therefore, the people must continue to keep up the pressure on the streets," demands Cristián Talamilla, the 47-year-old activist of a neighborhood initiative.

"We must not leave the process to the politicians, otherwise we will get a constitution again that was prefabricated in back rooms and only benefits the elite". 

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Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2020-10-26

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