Chile votes on a constitutional draft that could reshape its state

chile constitution
Participation in the constitutional exit referendum is mandatory. Photo: Toni Albir/EFE/Folhapress

After a long process which can be traced back to the massive social protests of 2019, Chileans will finally decide today whether to turn the draft proposed by the country’s Constituent Assembly into the new law of the land. 

More than 15 million Chileans will be obliged to vote in the so-called exit referendum. They will choose between accepting or rejecting a 388-article-long Constitution, with a heavy emphasis on social security, indigenous rights, environmental protection, and gender equality.

The text would replace a dictatorship-era constitution which, despite some reforms since the return to democracy in 1990, held property rights and public order above all and symbolized the political and economic conditions against which social discontents rallied in Chile.

Despite stellar macroeconomic numbers, Chile has faced high inequality levels, which progressively fractured the country’s social fabric and culminated in the massive 2019 protests. 

The country’s pension system, which is based entirely on a capitalization model, is a major source of dissatisfaction. The average pensioner in Chile today receives less than the minimum wage, with nine out of ten retirees receiving only 60 percent of the minimum wage — currently at USD 456.

After 78 percent of voters opted to reform the constitution in 2020 and the left and center-left dominated the election of representatives in 2021, skepticism about the Constituent Assembly grew over the last year, with polls showing many saw its proposals as too radical.

The final surveys before the polling blackout a fortnight ago showed 46 percent of Chileans leaning towards rejecting the current proposal and 37 thinking of voting in favor, with 17 percent undecided.

An approval victory would not only be a massive boost for the recently-inaugurated left-leaning President Gabriel Boric, one of the political architects of the reform, but could also mark the end of an era in Chile, one of the most market-friendly countries of the region between Augusto Pinochet’s military coup of 1973 and today.