Chile votes overwhelmingly for a new constitution to be decided by elected community delegates

Photo by Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters: Chileans celebrate referendum victory

Contributed by Joe Montero

Chile has been in political turmoil since the uprising against the brutal crackdown of police and army just over a year ago. It began with a protest of school students against a metro fare hike, and quickly grew into a massive movement for an end to the circumstances that kept much of the population economically impoverished and denied basic human rights.

On 25 October, the nation voted on a referendum for a new constitution, and the yes vote secured 78.24 percent of the electorate. The vote was also for an elected Special Convention made up of elected delegates, who will be charged with writing up the new constitution.

and they also for the creation of an elected Special Convention written solely by their fellow Chileans, and without the participation of sitting politicians.

People hit the streets across Chile to celebrate the result.

Video from Al Jazeera English

This would not have happened without the grass roots revolt, which has been going on for just over a year.

It started with a protest by school students against a Metro Fair hike, and quickly expanded into a movement to address the gross inequality in society, the improvement of wages, pensions and basic services, to a demand for the resignation of  billionaire President Sebastián Piñera.

He refused to go and sought to crush the movement by force.

Dozens died. Many more were injured, and hundreds deliberately shot in the eyes and blinded. Arrested women were raped, and some of the prisoners disappeared. Thousands were arrested and kept in prison and are only now starting to be brought before a court.

A special target have been the Mapuche indigenous people. They have been fighting for their land and sovereignty.

Repression didn’t work. People had lost their fear. Eventually, Piñera was left with no other choice but to agree to the holding a referendum for a new constitution, which had become a key demand of the revolt.

Opposition to the existing constitution is based on the popular view that it is a big part of the problem. It had been fashioned under the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and designed to maintain the same people in power. It written into it, is an on steroids version of neoliberalism, which has ensured that most of the benefits went to the few at the top.

Impacts of this led to discontent, and its acceptance by traditional political parties and politicians, isolated them from an increasingly disillusioned population.

Delegates to the Special Convention are supposed to be elected next April and submit a draft within a year. After a two-year process of refining the resulting document is to be voted on at another referendum. At least this is the way it’s supposed to go.

Members of the Special convention are to be elected from candidates put forward by political and social organisations and there will be the same number of women as men.  This is short of the call for representation from members coming from and representing the different social sectors.

Of special concern, has been the blocking of the local assemblies that sprung up during the revolt and take care of the day to day needs of their communities. They have been the backbone of organising the demand for the referendum and been have excluded, through an agreement reached by the traditional political parties and politicians.

Photo from Getty: Crowd gathered in Santiago after the vote result

Although the result of the vote was overwhelming and an important victory for those who want change, there is serious concern that this expressed will of the people will not be honoured.

Despite conceding defeat, Piñera is expected to continue to do what he can, to undermine the process, and the old political parties have been working to dominate the debate, and use this to steer it in the direction of minimal change. 

A new phase in the battle is looming. This one is about the direction in which Chile heads towards the future.

Chile closes chapter on Pinochet dictatorship

Video from FRANCE 24 English

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