Chile rejects proposed conservative constitution, maintains Pinochet-era text

Preliminary results reveal a setback for conservative aspirations of a new constitution, as Chileans have chosen to preserve the existing Pinochet-era draft.

A ballot falls into a ballot box during a referendum on a new Chilean constitution, in Santiago, Chile, December 17, 2023. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza

The decisive rejection, with 54.30% voting against the proposed constitution and only 45.70% in favour, underscores the nation’s enduring adherence to a historical political system rooted in tradition.

Drafted by a committee led by the Republican Party, the conservative-backed constitution aimed to safeguard property rights, uphold free-market principles, restrict overseas immigration, and permit abortions only under specific surgical circumstances.

This marks a reversal from over a year ago when Chileans turned down an advanced constitution that proposed making the country plurinational, defining autonomous Indigenous territories, and incorporating provisions for environmental and gender equity.

Leftist President Gabriel Boric, advocating for long-term growth over further constitutional changes, acknowledged the country’s division. “I invite you to build together a new era for Chile: growth for all, social justice and citizen security,” said Boric, Chile’s youngest-ever leader elected in 2021 at the age of 35. “The country needs everyone.”

However, Republican Party leader Jose Antonio Kast expressed disappointment, stating that Chileans were not swayed by the merits of the proposed constitution. Kast said, “We failed in the effort to convince Chileans that this would be a better constitution than the existing one.”

Efforts to replace the current constitution, a remnant of Pinochet’s military dictatorship that seized power in 1973, gained momentum after extensive protests last year demanding comprehensive political and social reforms. Despite strong economic performance, Chile grapples with severe wealth inequality.

In a 2020 referendum, eight out of every ten Chileans voted in favour of replacing the Pinochet constitution, perceived as facilitating the enrichment of companies and the elite at the expense of lower socio-economic classes. However, public enthusiasm for change gradually waned over subsequent years as concerns such as crime took precedence.

In the lead-up to this vote, opinion polls indicated its likely defeat. Reflecting on the process, a government employee who voted against approving the new constitution remarked on the wasted money: “This whole process has been a waste of government money … it’s a joke,” insisting that the old one be retained and that the government work on providing public safety.

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