Chile ditches politicians, entrusts independents with leading change

By Rubén Figueroa

Santiago de Chile, May 16 (EFE).- Chileans entrusted non-political candidates to push forward a process of change after granting them almost a third of the 155 seats of the elections held this weekend to select representatives of a convention that will draft the country’s new constitution.

The independents are citizens attached to different causes, ranging from gender equity to the environment, education, social justice and health care, who submitted their candidacies on the first occasion in history in which people outside partisan structures were allowed to apply.

Their success directly connects this constituent process with the October 2019 social protests in which it was born and which encouraged citizens to participate directly in the construction of the new model country they demanded on the streets.

The traditional political parties were handed big defeats in the elections held on Saturday and Sunday, obtaining a much lower-than-expected number of seats, especially the candidates of the ruling right.

The total of the two lists of left-wing opposition parties was also far from reaching the two-thirds majority they were expected to secure.

Candidates from political parties will now have to come to major agreements with the independents to draft the new constitution, which will replace the current one, drawn up in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, the independents had won 48 seats, the two major left-wing opposition lists secured 65, and the ruling right, which was organized into a single list called Vamos por Chile, got 38.

“We are being challenged by new expressions and leadership. It is our duty to listen humbly and attentively to the message of the people,” said Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera, after the results were released.

The independents will set the tone for the debate on the new constitution but will not be able to draft it on their own as they have not secured two-thirds of the seats required to approve each rule to be included.

But being generally aligned to progressive positions, they are expected, in many respects, to be in line with a section of the left-wing opposition constituents, which means the necessary two-third majority to allow for profound changes could be drummed up.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Heraldo Muñoz of the center-left Party for Democracy said that the election result represents “a categorical triumph of change, of the country’s desires for transformation to have a more dignified, more just and more prosperous Chile.”

The convention, which will still have to go through a parity correction to accommodate the same number of men and women, also contains 17 members of the country’s indigenous community, who represent 12.8 percent of the total population and seek to be recognized by the constitution.

Representatives of political parties admitted defeat at the polls and their failure to see change coming.

“There is no doubt that we are seeing an across-the-board defeat. A defeat that has to make us reflect. We haven’t been able to understand the majority of the citizens,” Mario Desbordes, of the right-wing National Renewal party, told journalists.

Since its formation, the constituent assembly, the world’s first with gender parity and made up exclusively of elected members, will have up to a year to draft the text. The process will culminate in 2022 with an exit plebiscite to finally approve or reject the new constitution. EFE


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