Chileans resoundingly rejected a new constitution to replace a charter imposed by the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet 41 years ago, dealing a stinging setback to President Gabriel Boric, who argued the document would have ushered in a progressive era.
With 96% of the votes counted in Sunday's plebiscite, the rejection camp had 61.9% support compared to 38.1% for approval amid what appeared to be a heavy turnout with long lines at polling states. Voting was mandatory.
The approval camp conceded defeat, with its spokesman Vlado Mirosevic saying: "We recognize this result and we listen with humility to what the Chilean people have expressed."
The rejection of the document was broadly expected in this country of 19 million as months of pre-election polling had shown Chileans had grown wary of the document that was written up by a constituent assembly in which a majority of delegates were not affiliated with a political party.
"Today we're consolidating a great majority of Chileans who saw rejection as a path of hope," said Carlos Salinas, a spokesman for the Citizens' House for Rejection. "We want to tell the government of President Gabriel Boric ... that 'Today you must be the president of all Chileans and together we must move forward.'"
Despite these expectations, no analyst or pollster had predicted such a large margin for the rejection camp, showing how Chileans were not ready to support a charter that would have been one of the most progressive in the world and would have fundamentally change the South American.
The proposed charter was the first in the world to be written by a convention split equally between male and female delegates, but critics said it was too long, lacked clarity and went too far in some of its measures, which included characterizing Chile as a plurinational state, establishing autonomous Indigenous territories and prioritizing the environment.
"The constitution that was written now leans too far to one side and does not have the vision of all Chileans," Roberto Briones, 41, said after voting in Chile's capital of Santiago. "We all want a new constitution, but it needs to have a better structure."
The result deals a major blow to Boric, who at 36 is Chile's youngest-ever president. He had tied his fortunes so closely to the new document that analysts said it was likely some voters saw the plebiscite as a referendum on his government at a time when his approval ratings have been plunging since he took office in March.
What happens now amounts to a big question mark. Chilean society at large, and political leadership of all stripes, have agreed the constitution that dates from the country's 1973-1990 dictatorship must change. The process that will be chosen to write up a new proposal still has to be determined and will likely be the subject of hard-fought negotiations between the country's political leadership.
Boric has called on the heads of all political parties for a meeting tomorrow to determine the path forward.
The vote marked the climax of a three-year process that began when the country once seen as a paragon of stability in the region exploded in student-led street protests in 2019. The unrest was sparked by a hike in public transportation prices, but it quickly expanded into broader demands for greater equality and more social protections.
The following year, just under 80% of Chileans voted in favor of changing the country's constitution. Then in 2021, they elected delegates to a constitutional convention.
The 388-article proposed charter sought to put a focus on social issues and gender parity, enshrined rights for the country's Indigenous population and put the environment and climate change center stage in a country that is the world’s top copper producer. It also introduced rights to free education, health care and housing.
The new constitution would have established autonomous Indigenous territories and recognized a parallel justice system in those areas, although lawmakers would decide how far-reaching that would be.
In contrast, the current constitution is a market-friendly document that favors the private sector over the state in aspects like education, pensions and health care. It also makes no reference to the country's Indigenous population, which makes up almost 13% of the population.
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