Santiago, Chile – Maribel Mora Curriao, a Mapuche poet living in the Chilean capital, was thrilled to vote on Sunday for what she described as “historic elections for the Mapuche people ”.
Curriao flew to Freire, a small town in southern Chile, to vote and be closer to his roots.
“We are voting with pride and identity for the first time. We have taken this process very seriously and we are very aware that this is a unique opportunity not only for us, but for the Chilean people in general, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“What happens from now on will not happen without the Mapuche communities. It’s now or never.”
Chileans began voting Saturday in a two-day election for mayors, governors and city councilors across the South American nation.
Voters also select 155 representatives to form a Constitutional Convention tasked with drafting a new constitution to replace the current one, which was written in the 1980s under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“Everything is under control,” Andres Tagle, chairman of the Electoral Service Board, said about the vote, the results of which are expected to be released late Sunday night.
For the first time in Chile’s history, ballot boxes were sealed and stored inside polling stations Saturday night. Election officials protected the sealed ballot boxes at 2,700 polling stations across the country, including schools and churches, and the Ministry of Defense sent more than 23,000 troops to protect them as an additional security measure.
“If there’s an attempt at fraud, we’ll find out,” Tagle said.
On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera encouraged people to vote by saying that “voting is honoring democracy and our society.” He tweeted, “Today the voice of the people must be heard in these historic elections.”
Representatives elected to accede to the Constitutional Convention will have nine months, with a possible three-month extension, to write the new constitution of Chile. It will then be presented to voters in a plebiscite next year and voting will be mandatory.
Monica Manriquez, 83, was the first to vote at Luis Arrieta Cañas Elementary School in Peñalolen County, Santiago. It was 8:30 local time, and there were very few people.
“I want to participate in any way I can in shaping the future of our country,” Manriquez told Al Jazeera. “Elections significantly define the destiny of a nation.”
Participation was low on both days, especially in working-class neighborhoods. According to the Electoral Service Board, 20 percent of Chile’s 14 million eligible voters (about three million people) voted Saturday.
Political analysts said the low turnout was due in part to a lack of information and the COVID-19 pandemic. Chile has reported more than 27,800 coronavirus-related deaths and more than 1.28 million cases to date.
While government officials have assured the public that the vote would take place in safe conditions amid the pandemic, on Saturday the country’s health minister urged citizens to “vote and go home”.
According to election experts, voter turnout should reach the same level as the October plebiscite last year, when Chileans voted 78% in favor of rewriting the constitution. About 51 percent of Chileans participated in this process.
Luna Follegati, historian and feminist, voted Sunday morning and stressed the importance of having a voice in drafting the new constitution.
“Without feminism, there is no social transformation,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Today we must include our feminist demands when writing a new constitution. If not, we will continue a poor democracy with a political system that goes against women’s rights and freedom. The feminist movement has been clear in recent times: we will not return to silence.