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Chile Rejects Conservative Draft of New Constitution in 2nd Referendum Vote

Chile voters rejected a proposed conservative constitution in a referendum held on December 17, 2023. The proposed constitution, drafted largely by conservative councilors, sought to replace the country’s existing charter dating back to the dictatorship era of General Augusto Pinochet.

Chile Rejects Conservative Draft of New Constitution in 2nd Referendum Vote

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With 96 percent of the votes counted, approximately 55.8 percent of the electorate voted against the new charter, while 44.2 percent favored its adoption.

The referendum outcome comes just over a year after Chile had previously rejected a left-leaning constitution drafted by a progressive convention.

The rejected conservative constitution, if approved, would have introduced more market oriented principles, reduced state intervention, and curtailed certain women’s rights.

The proposed constitution faced criticism for several controversial articles, including one stating that “the law protects the life of the unborn.”

This particular wording sparked concerns that it could lead to a complete prohibition of abortion in the country.

Chile allows abortion under specific circumstances, such as rape, fetal abnormalities, and risks to the mother’s life.

Another article suggested granting house arrest to prisoners with terminal illnesses who were not deemed a danger to society at large.

Critics, particularly from the left-wing opposition, argued that this measure might benefit individuals convicted of crimes against humanity during General Pinochet‘s dictatorship from 1973 to 1990.

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The proposed document faced opposition from local leaders who contended that it would eliminate taxes on residences, a source of state revenue paid by the wealthiest citizens.

The draft also proposed the expulsion of irregular immigrants as soon as possible and the establishment of new law enforcement institutions.

Javier Macaya, the leader of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party, recognized the defeat and urged the government not to pursue the issue further.

“From a perspective of coherence and respect for democracy, we recognize the results,” Macaya stated. However, he cautioned against revisiting the constitutional debate.

The rejection of the proposed constitution means that Chile will retain the Pinochet-era constitution, which has undergone amendments over the years.

This outcome is with the preference of former President Michelle Bachelet, who voted early in favor of maintaining the existing constitution, expressing a sentiment of choosing “something bad to something worse.”

The constitutional debate in Chile has been a process, triggered by protests in 2019 that had issues of inequality and social injustice.

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However, the attempt to replace the constitution, led by a left-leaning convention, was defeated in 2022. The election to determine who would draft the second version saw voters leaning towards the conservative right.

President Gabriel Boric, who had advocated for the proposed constitution, acknowledged the results and addressed that the constitutional process would conclude during his government.

The defeat poses a setback for Boric, whose presidency has also faced challenges related to a corruption scandal.

While the rejection of the conservative constitution provides clarity on the constitutional future of Chile, it leaves the country struggling with issues of social discontent and political polarization.

The 1980 constitution, drafted under Pinochet’s rule, has faced criticism for its undemocratic origins and entrenchment of conservative values in Chilean law.

Many argue that the constitutional process has exposed deep seated issues of inequality and marginalization, particularly concerning Chile’s Indigenous peoples.

The second draft, led by the far-right Republican Party, has been accused of prioritizing right-wing interests at the expense of marginalized groups.

Indigenous representatives, including Mapuche leaders, have voiced concerns about the draft deliberately excluding Indigenous voices from government representation and neglecting ancestral territories.

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