Chile Forced Back To The Drawing Board After New Constitution Scuttled

SANTIAGO, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Chile will go back to the drawing board to redraft its Augusto Pinochet-era constitution after a new text got overwhelmingly rejected in a historic referendum vote on Sunday, a blow to the country’s progressives, including young President Gabriel Boric.

Boric on Monday held meetings with political and social leaders over how to salvage plans for a new constitution, bruised by the vote that saw some 7.9 million Chileans reject the proposal against 4.9 million in favor, a larger-than-expected landslide loss.

With mandatory voting driving strong turnout of some 13 million people, the reject camp overturned momentum from a 2020 referendum when 80% of Chileans had voted in favor of drafting a new constitution, though only 7.6 million people then had voted.

“Beyond the legitimate differences, I know that the desire for dialog and meetings prevails. We continue and will move forward,” Boric wrote on Twitter on Monday after having given a conciliatory speech on Sunday night calling for unity.

The reject camp won in almost all districts of the country, the world’s top producer of copper and the No. 2 for lithium, where decades of relative conservative and market-led policy were shaken up in 2019 by fiery protests against inequality that many blamed on the Pinochet-era constitution.

For some voters, the drafters felt too connected to the violent protest movement. Maria Rivas, an engineer originally from Venezuela, said the proposal failed because it was “created in anger, under strong tensions and divisions and was not good for Chile.”

The process was also flooded with misinformation about the new constitution, a factor some voters think impacted the vote so heavily.

“If people had informed themselves better, if they had believed less in lies, the outcome would have been different,” said Susana Lobos, who works in advertising. “But they believed in the social media, in lies they heard and they were scared, believing Chile could turn into Venezuela.”

The vote had been seen as something of a referendum also on 36-year-old Boric, who came into office in March promising economic and social reforms, though has been hit by high inflation levels, economic worries and a weak peso currency.

Chile’s markets rallied on Monday as investors cheered the result, which some said will force any new constitution text to be more moderate and to involve more centrist and conservative groups in its redrafting.

Boric, who led a broad leftist alliance when winning election, said on Sunday night that he was planning to reshape his cabinet in the wake of the defeat, which could also see him bring in more moderate ministers.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Camila Vallejo, the government’s spokesperson, said that regardless of the result, Sunday’s vote was going to mark a new phase for the government.

“When the president considers adjustments, he’s doing it for the good of the country and we all have to be available to step aside if that’s what the president wants,” Vallejo said.

Center-left and right-wing politicians that opposed the new constitution have expressed interest in working with the government to draft a new text, while others have suggested amending the current constitution through Congress.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Natalia Ramos and Alexander Villegas; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker)

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