Chileans vote en masse to decide on new progressive constitution

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Polls have closed in Chile, where voters turned out en masse Sunday to approve or reject a progressive new constitution that would replace its current market-friendly text dating back to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Chile’s election agency expects to have results within a few hours.

Voting centres around the country reported long lines and high turnout as Chileans participated in a mandatory vote, which experts say adds uncertainty to polls, which have consistently showed voters are more likely to reject the new text.

Diego Uribe, 35, a father of two who doesn’t normally vote because he’s lost faith in political parties, voted to approve the new constitution in Puente Alto, a lower-income region in southern Santiago.

“This one is different,” Uribe said, adding that he would have voted even if it wasn’t mandatory. “Approval is real change for the future, free education, dignified health care and more rights.”

People line up outside a polling station in Valparaiso on Sunday. Voting centres around the country reported long lines and high turnout in the mandatory vote. (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)

The new text is the result of an agreement reached to quell violent protests against inequality in 2019 and focuses on social rights, the environment, gender equality and Indigenous rights.

While nearly 80 per cent of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution in late 2020, polls show public support for the new text has dropped amid fear of certain proposals and controversies surrounding the constituents elected to draft it.

More than 15 million Chileans and residents are eligible to vote across more than 3,000 voting centres, including the national stadium in Santiago, where Rosemarie Williamson, 54, voted to reject the new constitution alongside her 85-year-old mother.

Williamson voted to draft a new constitution in 2020, but rejected the proposed constitution today, citing worries over several proposals.

“The main one is [Indigenous] plurinationality and then pension funds,” Williamson said. “I’ve worked my whole life and I’m not willing to share that.”

Electoral workers count ballots at a polling station in Santiago on Sunday. More than 15 million Chileans and residents were eligible to vote. (Ailen Diaz/Reuters)

President Gabriel Boric voted in the southern city of Punta Arenas early on Sunday and vowed to preserve unity regardless of the outcome.

“In the difficult times we had as a country we took the path of resolving our differences and moving forward with more democracy,” Boric told reporters after voting.

He added that no matter the outcome, the government will work with all sectors to “advance in justice, equality, growth and development for everyone.”

Chile President Gabriel Boric holds a news conference after casting his vote in Punta Arenas on Sunday. He vowed to preserve unity regardless of the outcome. (Andres Poblete/The Associated Press)

Some polls from outside the country — including from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea and China — have already closed and show a favourable lead for the new text. Votes from Chileans residing outside the country historically skew more progressive than the rest of the electorate.

Polls will close at 6 p.m. local time but stay open for voters waiting in line. Chile’s election agency expects to have results within a few hours.

The number of voters planning to vote No on the new text first surpassed the Yes vote in April and has kept a varying lead. The latest polls before a two-week blackout showed the No vote ahead with 47 per cent compared with 38 per cent for Yes and 17 per cent undecided.

The ruling coalition has already agreed to modify the text if it is approved and 57 transitory norms will help guide the transition from one constitution to the next.

If the text is rejected, Boric has said the process should restart to fulfil the mandate given by the 2020 vote to draft a new constitution. Other political figures have said the current constitution should be amended given recent legislative changes to lower majorities needed to do so.

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