Chile votes overwhelmingly in favor of a change of political course in parliamentary elections. Most of the votes went to left-wing and independent forces, giving them a surprisingly clear-cut victory. Centrist parties were voted out alongside the conservatives.

Last Sunday’s elections are considered Chile’s most important vote since the country’s return to democracy 30 years ago. They  determine who will draft Chile’s new constitution. A new constitution was the central demand of weeks of protests in 2019 and 2020. Some 14 million Chileans were called to cast their votes.

Currently, Chile still has a constitution that dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). Among other things, this determines the privatization of water in the South American country, which leads to considerable water shortages for the Chilean population. A first draft of the new constitution is to be put to a vote in 2022. 

Why are this year’s elections in Chile so significant?

The forecasts initially looked good for the ruling President Piñera and his conservative government. After the votes were counted, however, it became clear that his coalition could not even reach the set goal of one-third of the seats. Chileans gave an unexpected rebuff to the previously ruling conservative party, probably in order to minimize its influence on the new constitution. 

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The left-wing parties “Lista del Pueblo” (People’s List) with 15.1%, “Apruebo Dignidad” (Consent, Dignity) with 18.5% and some independent parties such as the “Lista del Apruebo” (Consent List) with 14.7% were among the big winners of the election. “Apruebo” (approval) or “Rechazo” (rejection) was the question in the referendum for a new constitution.

Although Piñera’s party “Vamos por Chile” (Let’s Go Chile) came in at 21.2 percent, making it the strongest force, it will play only a subordinate role in further events. The left-wing parties see the election results as a clear sign of the cohesion of the Chilean population.

Political experts have already interpreted the result of the referendum as showing the way for the future of Chilean politics . Left-wing parties spoke of a great victory for the Chilean people and their independence. Both the result of the referendum (LINK TO A SCOOP ARTICLE ON THIS) and the election outcome in May 2021 could set the trend for the presidential elections coming up in 2022. The people wanted neither a new right-wing government nor a neoliberal middle way.

President Piñera 

Since 2018, the South American country with a population of around 19 million has been governed by liberal-conservative President Sebastian Piñera. Piñera was already president of the country from 2010 to 2014 under the right-wing Chile-Vamos coalition. He then withdrew from politics and returned to his life as a billionaire until he ran again in 2017. 

Piñera drew criticism for, among other things, holding shares in a private Chilean TV station and a soccer club despite his political office. According to Forbes financial magazine, the head of government’s fortune amounts to $3 billion. 

Corona in Chile – the showcase country battles the virus

Of course, the pandemic did not leave Chile unscathed. Internationally, there was initially praise for the successful vaccination program, but now the country is struggling with a new wave of the virus. It is suspected that this is related to the Chinese vaccine Sinovak, which is said to offer significantly lower protection than the mRNA substances from Biontech and Pfizer. This is currently causing political discussions in the country. 

Water shortage threatens population

In Chile, water is a private good, and private companies are building pipelines throughout the country. Not for the Chilean population, however, but to drive profitable avocado cultivation. The fruit is exported abroad. While the avocado plantations shine green, a few meters away entire rivers dry up and the population struggles with water shortages. The previous constitution supported this. 

Thousands demonstrated for new constitution 

In 2019, strong public protests began, initially ignited in the face of a planned increase in the price of public transport tickets. Soon, however, the massive social inequality and persistent poverty in the country became the focus of the demonstrations. Under the slogan “Chile despertó” (Chile has awakened), first thousands and later hundreds of thousands of people gathered over a period of months to demand a new constitution that would secure basic social rights. 

As demonstrations grew in size, President Piñera began to use the military against the population, not shying away from brutality. Several dozen demonstrators were killed.

The road to a new constitution

In a referendum held in October 2020, 80% of Chilean women voted in favor of a new constitution. Now those 150 representatives have been elected to redraft it – half of them women and seats for indigenous groups are also included.

The new Constituyente (constitution) will be decisive for the country’s development in the coming decades, because the basic law in force up to now dates back to the time of the Pinochet dictatorship. 

It has so far made any social reforms impossible and is considered one of the causes of the massive economic inequality in the country, which ultimately led to mass protests in the last two years. The constitution of the military dictatorship is now a thing of the past, this is the result of successful protests by the Chilean people. 

Enormous social inequality in Chile 

The road to the new constitution will not be an easy one. The constitution of the military dictatorship has led to enormous inequality. Although this has been reduced somewhat over the last 20 years, it has essentially remained. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of about $15,000 per capita, Chile is at the top of Latin America, but 30% of the income is concentrated in just 1% of the population. Nearly 15% of Chilean women live in poverty. Now it must be decided which parts of the constitution should be abolished altogether and which should be reformed. 

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