A year after the outbreak of an unprecedented protest against inequalities, Chileans are called upon to vote in a referendum on Sunday on a constitutional change, seen by many as an obstacle to more social justice.
This demand figured prominently in the demands of the demonstrations that erupted from October 18, 2019 to turn into a wave of social protest unprecedented since the return of democracy in 1990.
For supporters of “Apruebo” (I agree), mainly in the left-wing opposition, a new constitution would remove an essential obstacle to far-reaching social reforms in one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.
“I agree (Apruebo) for dignity to become normal,” graffiti can be read on many walls in the capital.
The defenders of the “Rechazo” (I reject), who bring together the most conservative parties, consider for their part that it is possible to introduce changes in the fundamental text, which they believe guarantee the stability of Chile in recent decades, without needing to replace it.
“I don’t want my country to fall into the same hands as Argentina or Venezuela and all those countries that are a disaster,” said Hernan Allende, a 63-year-old real estate agent.
On the occasion of the vote, the voters will have to answer two questions: one on the replacement or not of the Constitution and the other, if necessary, on the method for drafting it, namely the establishment of a “Mixed Convention” made up of equal parts of elected citizens and sitting parliamentarians, or a “Constituent Convention” made up entirely of elected citizens.
According to a latest poll by the Cadem National Institute, “Apruebo” is 74% ahead.
For his supporters, it would also be about getting rid of the last scars of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), the fundamental text in force having been approved on September 11, 1980 in a controversial referendum.
Initially scheduled for April 26, the ballot was eventually postponed until the end of October due to the epidemic that hit the country of 18 million people hard, but is now stabilizing.
“Not 30 pesos, but 30 years”
In October 2019, when conservative President Sebastian Piñera decreed that Chile was an “oasis” of stability in Latin America, the 30 pesos (3 cents) increase in the price of the metro ticket would suddenly trigger a crisis. social unprecedented in the country.
This demand made by high school students stepping over the porticoes of the metro revealed a deep unease in Chilean society where water, electricity, gas, as well as education, health and pensions are essentially the responsibility of the private sector. .
State action being limited in these areas by the Constitution, it was therefore up to the protesters to change.
“It’s not 30 pesos, but 30 years” of inequality since the end of the dictatorship, denounced the demonstrators, who on October 25 exceeded one million in Plaza d´Italia, the epicenter of the rallies. Unheard of in the South American country.
On November 15, after a month of violent protests, the governing coalition and the main opposition parties reached a historic agreement on the organization of the referendum.
By this decision, the political class “correctly decoded” the crisis which manifested itself in the street, estimates the political philosopher Cristobal Bellolio, who hopes that this referendum “will have the capacity to legitimize the political institutions for the next 30 or 40 years”.
The crisis also revealed brutal policing: Chilean police have been accused of “serious human rights violations” by the UN and Amnesty International (AI).
In total, fires, looting and repression left thirty dead. Some 460 people were also shot dead by the buckshot.
President Piñera, who has not publicly declared whether he is “Apruebo” or “Rechazo”, called on Chileans to vote massively and thus hopes for “national reconciliation”.