Chileans decide this Sunday, 4, at the polls whether or not to approve the new Constitution. According to polls, the text presented in July tends to be rejected by the majority, which would represent a political defeat for the president, Gabriel Boricin office since March.
The new Charter, if approved, will replace the 1980 constitutional text, drafted during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The general’s regime began to crumble precisely after a plebiscite, in 1988, when Chileans said no to the dictatorship, one of the most brutal in the world. Latin AmericaThat left more than 3 thousand dead and 35 thousand torturedaccording to official reports.
At that time, Pinochet called for a vote to legitimize his stay in power until 1997, but he was defeated at the polls. The mass participation of Chileans (97%) led the dictator to recognize the result and start the democratic transition. In today’s vote, turnout should also be a deciding factor.
The campaign for approval has used the image of the 1988 referendum, which marked a generation of Chileans. On the last day of the campaign, on Thursday, the parallel between the two processes was evident in the streets of Santiago, one of the places where most of the electorate approves the new text.
Thousands of supporters of the new proposal marched in the capital with posters calling for “the end of Pinochet’s Constitution” and remembering Salvador Allende, president assassinated in the coup d’état promoted by the dictator and the Armed Forces in 1973.
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Analysts note similarities and differences between the two periods. As in 1988, Chile is currently experiencing an economic crisis marked by high inflation. As almost 35 years ago, popular participation, especially among young people, can also be decisive.
The age division is another similarity in the two cases. As in 1988, most young people today advocate change. Seniors want to maintain the status quo. “In general, older people tend to have a fear of the unknown,” said Julieta Suárez-Cao, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC Chile).
In the opinion of Roberto Izikson, director of public affairs at Cadem, Chile’s largest research institute, the context of an economic crisis may affect the result. “In 1988, conditions were adverse for the military dictatorship and helped the ‘no’ to achieve a significant difference,” he said. “Today, these same conditions are adverse for the current government (of Gabriel Boric) and, therefore, mobilize more the vote to reject the new Charter.”
The political impact of a defeat of the new constitutional text could have an adverse political effect on the government. “If the Constitution is rejected with a higher percentage than the rejection of the dictatorship in 1988, or has more votes than Boric got in the second round (in 2021), the government could be in a very complex position and the president will need to political skill to reconfigure the next three years,” said Izikson.
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That’s why government officials and supporters of the new Charter have spent the last few days on a blitz to attract young people, women and the low-income population to the polls – the three parts of the electorate that can change the game.
Throughout the referendum campaign, the fact that the current Constitution was created during the dictatorship was used to attract votes in favor of the new Charter, but this was not enough to gain wider support from the population.
In the opinion of experts, this occurs because controversial points increase rejection, such as the idea of plurinationality – which dilutes the ideal of a nation built since Chile’s independence. Another point of friction is the end of the Senate, which would be replaced by a Chamber of Regions – tasked with evaluating laws with regional impact.
“The rejection is not against the idea of changing the Constitution, but a rejection of some specific proposals,” said Carmen Le Foulon, coordinator of public opinion at the Center for Public Studies (CEP).
According to Foulon, this characteristic is evident in a survey carried out by the CEP between April and May, in which 42% of Chileans said they wanted a new Constitution. Another 31% wanted reforms to the current text and 15% asked to keep it as it is. “The 2020 referendum, which asked whether Chileans wanted a new Constitution, also made that clear: 80% said yes,” he said.
Furthermore, support for the new constitutional text does not follow an ideological line. Most of those who reject the Charter are from the center or center-left.
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Among them are former presidents Ricardo Lagos, a socialist, and Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat. Both reject both Pinochet’s Constitution and the new proposal and argue for the constituent process to continue after the referendum.
The center and center-right parties that oppose the new Charter had a very small number of representatives elected to the Constituent Convention – thanks in part to the unpopular government of then President Sebastián Piñera – and their chances of influencing the text were always very low. This intensified the debate and undermined attempts at consensus. •
“In 1988, conditions were adverse for the military dictatorship and helped the ‘no’ to achieve a significant difference” Roberto Izikson Director of public affairs at the Cadem research institute.