Santiago, Chile – On a sunny winter day in the Chilean capital, a group of neighbors from La Reina, a county on the east coast of Santiago, gathered to support the candidates for the Constitutional Convention, days before what could be the most important election in the country. In a good mood, they wave flags, laugh and greet each other with their elbows. They wore masks and shared alcoholic gel.
Renato Garrido, one of the candidates, urged people to vote because, he said: “A new constitution will be the only way for our country to have participation, justice, true freedom and freedom. growth. When citizens feel heard, they can conclude agreements, respecting and tolerating all opinions. We have to do it out of love for Chile. “
On May 15 and 16, Chileans will go to the polls to elect 155 members of the Constitutional Convention. Its mission will be the drafting of a new constitution which should be submitted to a referendum in 2022. After a long struggle, the current constitution – drafted in the 1980s under the Pinochet dictatorship and greatly amended in the years that followed – will be left out.
More than 1,300 candidates will compete for membership of the Constitutional Convention. For the first time, this election includes a requirement for gender parity – giving women a proportional number of seats, and will include 17 places reserved for indigenous peoples.
Election experts fear that people will not vote in large numbers – not only because of the pandemic, but because the government has released little information about the whole process.
“Neither the state nor the government have seriously acknowledged that part of the population does not know that elections will be held this weekend,” Marta Lagos, director of Mori Chile, a company told national television. well-known sounding.
Chilean voters will also elect mayors, governors and city councilors across the country. The presidential election is scheduled for November.
This ambitious electoral calendar will unfold as the country is going through difficult times: a state of emergency, a night-time curfew, more than 10% of the working-age population (two and a half million people) unemployed, and a pandemic that has killed nearly 27,000 people. Elections were originally scheduled for April but were postponed due to the high number of people with coronavirus infections.
Health officials insist Chileans will be able to vote in a safe environment as cases have declined in recent weeks, in part thanks to Chile’s successful vaccination campaign.
More than seven million people have already received their two vaccines (47 percent of the “target population”). But the nightmare is not over yet – around 40% of the country is still on lockdown.
According to Javiera Parada, cultural consultant, the stake of the next elections is “the social pact of our political generation – a pact which will allow us to find civil coexistence and to renew our institutions and its legitimacy.
“Chile urgently needs to establish rules that summon us all. This is essential if we are to return to the path of sustainable development. People know that changing the constitution is not enough, but that it is necessary for a country to have institutions that serve its time and the new society in which we live. I believe in people, I believe in Chile and its future.
Last October, the Chileans sent a clear message during a national plebiscite where 78% approved the drafting of a new constitution by elected members. They will have nine months to draft the new constitution – a deadline that can be extended for another three months.
Not everyone is enthusiastic.
“The Constitutional Convention was the result of a flawed agreement reached by Congress behind our backs. It will be a transitional constitution and in a few years we will have a new social uprising because the people’s demands will not be resolved, ”Moisés Scherman, an economist, told Al Jazeera. Scherman said he would deliberately spoil his ballot.
Most Chileans seem to agree on one point. Economic growth must lead to the comfort and well-being of all, and not just a few.
Over the past two decades, Chile has made progress towards greater economic prosperity and poverty reduction. Per capita income has more than doubled over the past 20 years and is now the highest in Latin America, but progress has stalled. The economy has grown, but under the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera, one percent of the population owns 25 percent of the country’s wealth. It was this state of affairs that triggered the historic social uprisings of October 2019, brutally suppressed by the police.
The upheaval was the result of popular dissatisfaction with the economic model and the state of inequity in the country. More than 3,700 people were injured by police (Carabineros) during the October protests, according to a February 2020 report from Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights.
Some political analysts fear that the expectations around the new constitution turn out to be too ambitious and do not reflect social realities. Citizens want it to encompass multiple and diverse issues: human, women’s and workers’ rights, health, education, pension funds, child defense and protection, social protection, fight against crime, equality gender, environment, domestic violence, freedom of expression, and more.
Patricio Navia, professor of political science at New York University and Diego Portales University in Chile, says that “people expect a lot from the new constitution. Many people see it as a magic pill that will solve all of Chile’s problems. People will wake up abruptly when the new constitution is enacted and none of those promises come true.
Navia believes that for Chile to extend its social safety net, “the country must be able to develop economically much more than it has in the past. For this to happen, there must be clear rules to attract foreign investment and a level playing field to ensure equal opportunities for all. “