Last Sunday, September 4, the population of Chile rejected the letter proposal prepared by the constitutional state. With 61.6% of the vote, “rechazo” won an overwhelming victory, surprising even the most optimistic opponents of the letter and contradicting polls conducted in recent months, which indicated a victory for rechazo, but with a smaller margin. Some questions are inevitable, and above all, Chile has plunged into a period of intense political debate about its immediate future.
The most obvious and obvious question is: what explains this result? After all, in 2020, the Chilean population decided with 78% of the votes to write a new constitution, rejecting the letter inherited from Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Awarded in 1980, it suffers from several debates about its original dependence, which we have already discussed here in our space. It also marks the most violent and authoritarian period in Chilean history. That is, the majority of voters want to get rid of this legacy.
Besides choosing the new constitution, it was the Chilean voters who chose the electors. As a recent third election chapter, in December 2021, 55% of voters chose Gabriel Boric as the country’s president, the most left-wing politician elected in Chile since Salvador Allende in 1970, who was overthrown by Pinochet’s military coup in 1973. Or rather, after three clear electoral victories for the left, she was defeated, perhaps in the most important vote.
diversity and lithium
Chile is a big country, territorially. As Brazil is a continental country, we don’t usually see other countries as big, except for Russia, the USA and one or the other. This territorial enormity translates into richness and diversity, in geography, climate and also in demography. Different sectors of the population will have different interests and perspectives. And that contributes to one of the explanations for the referendum results. Unlike other elections, voting in the constitutional referendum was mandatory.
While just over 8 million Chileans participated in the second round of the 2021 presidential election, more than 13 million voted in the referendum. Five million new voters. This does not mean that one or the other is more or less democratic. These are the rules for any lawsuit. Optional voting is sometimes classified as more democratic than compulsory voting. The fact is that more people voted, more voices were heard, voices that may not have spoken before.
This “silent” electorate will represent Chilean sectors that considered the presented constitution unbalanced in terms of social representation. The topics most discussed in Chile were not economic. For example, the constitution allowed the state to participate in the research of lithium, a necessary mineral in the coming years, because it is used for electric batteries. Electric cars, cell phones, computers, etc. need lithium.
Coincidence or not, the editorial of one of the largest newspapers in the US, owned by an e-commerce tycoon who is diversifying his business into other sectors, such as space exploration, talks about the importance of the Chilean referendum. And he opened the text about this importance by talking about lithium, since a significant part of mineral reserves is located in Latin America, including the Amazon. However, it was not lithium that most led the debate on the Chilean constitution, far from it.
There were issues such as abortion in pregnancy and the representation of indigenous peoples. This second point was even very delicate in several episodes, such as the discussion about the multinational status of Chile and the use of national symbols, such as the flag. Questions that for this citizen of Chile, who normally does not go to the polls, but felt the obligation to do so, are not relevant, do not interest him or he is directly against them. In this sense, the problem of every vote like this is that it is “all or nothing”.
A voter may even agree with some programs but not identify with others and therefore voted against. Those two aspects, the expansion of the electorate and the expansion of the agenda, largely explain the result of the referendum. “For the most part”, because if we say that Chile is a diverse country in every respect, there is no monolithic answer to this result. Anyone who says that would be misleading the reader. More than right versus left, this referendum was between those who advocate complete change and those who claim that there are things worth preserving in Chile today.
This will be the rationale that will now guide Chilean politics. Contrary to what some people may think, the 1980 constitution was not “saved”. Colombian President Gustavo Petro, for example, even announced on a social network that “Pinochet is alive”. Apart from an inappropriate comment about the internal affairs of a neighboring country, he is wrong. In 2020, the Chilean population has already decided to bury the constitution of 1980. It remains to be seen how, but that result remains valid. It was not the new constitution that was rejected, but this draft of the new constitution.
the new constitution
After the results, President Gabriel Boric said that Chile is a democratic society, that the people spoke clearly and that he would talk to the party leaders of the congress. Most of the parties even defend the new constitution and have committed themselves to the process that began with popular protests in 2019 and at the initiative of then-president Sebastian Piñera, a right-winger. There are several options for progress, including greater involvement from Congress.
However, what is changing is that now it is the right that “owns the ball”. The most important thing here is not just the defeat of the new constitution, but the magnitude of this defeat, which is likely to translate into political agreements that meet the demands of right-wing parties on social issues, such as abortion in pregnancy, indigenous representation and the structure of the state. There is a lot of talk about a period of “uncertainty” in the coming months, but it would not be any different with the adoption of the new constitution, because it would not magically come into force.
Above all, any analysis and conclusion about the Chilean constitutional referendum must not forget one thing. That’s how representative democracies work. Whether you like the proposed letter or parts of it, it was rejected by the majority of the population. Full stop. These people should be heard, especially in their aspirations for a society with a better quality of life for its citizens. Gabriel Boric responded knowing this and now he will have the difficult task of negotiating with Congress, coming up with a new letter representing the Chilean people and finally burying the legacy of the murderous regime that ruled the country.