Chileans will vote on a second election day on Sunday to elect 155 delegates to the Constituent Assembly, which will rewrite the country’s constitution from the era of dictatorship to eradicate the deep-seated social inequality that sparked deadly protests in 2019.
Approximately 14 million people will be eligible to vote this weekend in what many consider to be Chile’s most important election since its return to democracy 31 years ago.
According to the country’s electoral service, more than three million people, or about 20.4 percent of voters, cast their votes on Saturday.
“I hope we have a constitution that captures the soul of our nation,” said President Sebastian Pinera after casting his vote in the capital, Santiago.
The 35-year-old economist Silvia Navarrete was at a polling station in Santiago with her young daughter in her arms.
She said she voted for a system that “works for everyone, lets all voices be heard” and ensures that “rights and obligations are really fair for all people”.
Forty-year-old university professor Carlos Huertas said his ballot was sent to candidates who were active in “this social revolution” – referring to the 2019 protests.
The Chilean constitution dates from 1980 and was enacted at the height of the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s rule from 1973-1990. It is widely held responsible for blocking fair progress in a country considered one of the most unequal among advanced economies.
This inequality was one of the main reasons behind the protests in October 2019, which a month later – after 36 deaths – resulted in the government approving a referendum on a new constitution.
This referendum, which was originally scheduled for April 2020 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, finally took place on October 25th last year.
The result was clear: 80 percent voted for a new constitution, which was to be drawn up by a committee made up of exclusively elected members.
This weekend there are more than 1,300 candidates in the running to become part of history.
Analysts say the election will be a battle between candidates from parties on the left and right, with no significant support expected from independents.
The parties on the left are broadly seeking greater state control over minerals and other natural resources, most of which have been privatized since the dictatorship, and more public spending on education, health, pensions and social welfare.
Poll workers carry ballot boxes with votes in Valparaiso [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]The right, with an allusion to the need to strengthen social support, largely defends the free market capitalist system that they thank for Chile’s decades of economic growth.
In a world first, half of the candidates are – by nature – women.
This also applies to the 155-strong editorial group, which has nine months to draft a new founding law for Chile, which will be approved or rejected in a mandatory national vote next year.
Seventeen seats in the constitution-writing “convention” are reserved for indigenous representatives.
Voters will also vote for regional governors, mayors and councilors this weekend – usually a litmus test for presidential elections due in November.
Rich but unequal
The election campaign was complicated in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak that has resulted in more than 1.2 million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths in the country of 19 million people. The two-day election format was set due to the pandemic.
Chile has one of the highest vaccination rates in South America. More than 48.5 percent of the 15.2 million target residents have received two doses so far.
The country has the highest per capita income and the third largest multimillionaires in Latin America. But the working and even the upper middle class live in heavy debt, often to pay for schooling and private pensions.
A February OECD report stated that “persistently high inequality” is a key challenge for Chile. 53 percent of households are considered economically vulnerable, and the poorest 20 percent of households earn just 5.1 percent of total income.
Satisfaction with quality of life is low.