Chileans are voting Sunday in a second day of polls to elect 155 delegates to the Constituent Assembly, who will rewrite the dictatorship-era constitution to try to address the deep social inequalities that sparked deadly protests in 2019.
Nearly 14 million people can vote this weekend in what many consider Chile’s most important election since its return to democracy 31 years ago.
More than three million people, or about 20.4 percent of the electorate, voted Saturday, according to the country’s Electoral Service.
“I hope we have a constitution that captures the soul of our nation,” President Sebastian Pinera said after voting in the capital Santiago.
Silvia Navarrete, a 35-year-old economist, was at a polling station in Santiago with her young daughter in her arms.
He said he had voted for a system that “works for everyone, allowing all voices to be heard” and assuring “that rights and duties are truly fair to all human beings.”
Forty-year-old university professor Carlos Huertas said his vote was aimed at candidates who had been active in “this social revolution,” in reference to the 2019 protests.
Chile’s constitution dates back to 1980, promulgated at the height of the government of dictator Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990, and is widely accused of blocking equitable progress in a country ranked as one of the most unequal among advanced economies.
This inequality was one of the main drivers of the protests of October 2019, which resulted a month later – after 36 deaths – that the government agreed to a referendum on a new constitution.
This plebiscite, initially scheduled for April 2020 but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, finally took place on October 25 last year.
The result was unequivocal: 80% voted for a new constitution that had to be drafted by a body made up entirely of elected members.
This weekend, more than 1,300 candidates are running for the race to be part of the story.
Analysts say the election will be a battle between left-wing and right-wing party candidates, and independents are not expected to gain any significant support.
Left-wing parties generally seek greater state control of mineral and other natural resources – mainly privatized since the dictatorship – and more public spending on education, health, pensions and social welfare.
Those on the right, with a gesture towards the need to encourage social support, largely defend the capitalist and free market system that they appreciate for decades of economic growth in Chile.
In a world first place, half of the candidates are, by design, women.
This will also be the case for the 155-member drafting group, which will have nine months to present a new founding law for Chile, which will be approved or rejected next year in a mandatory national vote.
Seventeen seats of the “convention” drafting the constitution are reserved for indigenous representatives.
This weekend, voters will also elect regional governors, mayors and local councilors, usually a test of fire for the presidential election, which will take place next November.
Rich, but uneven
The campaign has been complicated amid an outbreak of COVID-19 that has caused more than 1.2 million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths in the country of 19 million people, with the format of two days of elections decided due of the pandemic.
Chile has one of the highest vaccination rates in South America, with more than 48.5% of the target 15.2 million people receiving two doses to date.
The country has the highest per capita income and the third largest billionaire in Latin America. But the working classes and even the upper middle class live on heavy debt, often to pay for schooling and private pensions.
An OECD report in February said that “persistently high inequality” was a key challenge for Chile, as 53% of households were classified as economically vulnerable and 20% of the poorest families only got one. 5.1% of total revenue.
There is a low level of satisfaction with quality of life.