Overwhelming majority for new constitution in Chile

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Nearly eight out of ten Chileans have voted to scrap the country’s constitution, which dates back to the time of General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

People celebrated in Santiago after that election result became known. Photo: Luis Hidalgo / AP / NTB

The result triggered large scenes of jubilation in several cities in the country. In the capital Santiago, thousands of people flocked to the streets to celebrate with cymbals, drums and wind instruments.

– I never thought that we Chileans would be able to come together to create such a change, said 46-year-old Maria Isabel Nunez, who celebrated hand in hand with her 20-year-old daughter.

As many as 78 percent have voted for the proposal to write a new constitution, the country’s election commission states.

Piñera: This is just the beginning

President Sebastián Piñera calls on the country to stand together in the work on the new constitution.

“The referendum is not the end, it is the beginning of a path we must take together to agree on a new constitution for Chile,” Piñera said in a speech on Sunday night.

– Until now, the constitution has divided us. From today, we must all work together, so that the new constitution forms a great framework for unity, stability and the future, he continued.

President Sebastián Piñera spoke to the people after the result of the referendum became known. He urges the country to work together to draft a new constitution. Photo: Dragomir Yankovic / Aton Chile via AP / NTB

Protesters set fire to a puppet representing General Augusto Pinochet on Sunday. The country’s constitution was written under Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Photo: Luis Hidalgo / AP / NTB

Derived from the dictatorship

The current constitution was written during the period when the country was ruled by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet – from 1973 to 1990.

Many believe that it contributes to social inequality, among other things by not establishing that it is the state’s responsibility to provide citizens with health care and education.

The decision to hold a referendum was made almost a year ago after a month of large demonstrations against inequality and corruption.

The largest demonstration was attended by over one million people in Santiago on the day one year before the referendum. The pressure was therefore so great that Piñera opened for a referendum.

Punch in the face

The result of the referendum is a slap in the face to the country’s politicians, according to the Chilean political scientist Marcelo Mella.

“Such a strong majority for a new constitution should be interpreted as a rejection of the political parties, which have largely been enforcers of Pinochet’s constitution and of the regime we inherited from him,” Mella told AFP.

Many conservative voices have defended the current constitution, arguing that it has been decisive for decades of economic growth and stability in Chile.

Hope for change

The new constitution is expected to expand the state’s role in ensuring the welfare of citizens and ensuring basic rights to health, education, distribution of water and pensions.

– I am full of hope that things will change and that we will bring about a radical change in the country, says 42-year-old Romina Nunez, who worked on organizing voting at the national stadium in Santiago, the country’s largest polling station.

Thousands cast their votes at the large facility, which during Pinochet’s reign was used as a prison camp where regime critics were tortured.

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