Chileans vote in historic constitutional referendum

Santiago, Sep 4 (EFE).- Chilean election authorities late Sunday began counting the ballots in the historic plebiscite to approve – or reject – the draft of a new constitution in one of the most important ballotings of recent years and which, if approved, could mean profound change for the country’s political model.

More than 15.1 million citizens were eligible to vote at polling places all across the South American country, with precincts opening at 8 am and closing at 6 pm.

The new charter was drafted over the course of the past year by a constitutional delegates elected after a wave of social, economic and political protests in 2019.

The results of the vote, which was predicted to be quite close, are scheduled to be made public a few hours after the polls closed, and President Gabriel Boric is slated to address the public on national television regardless of whether the “yes” or “no” option prevails.

“The whole world is watching us,” said Boric early Sunday upon depositing his ballot in his hometown of Punta Arenas, 3,000 kilometers (1,860 mi.) south of Santiago.

The new constitutional text declares Chile to be “A social and democratic, plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological state of law,” enumerating a list of new social rights and establishing that its democracy is “equal and inclusive.”

If approved, the next text will replace the current neoliberal constitution, which was drafted and implemented during the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

If rejected, the current charter will remain in effect, although Boric has already announced that he will launch a new constitutional process and that the mandate of the October 2020 plebiscite will be fulfilled in which almost 80 percent of Chileans asked for constitutional change.

“Independent of what the result may be, (we) will … convene a broad national unity of all sectors … We want to listen to all voices to be able to continue to move forward with this process,” the president emphasized.

For the first time, voting in Chile is obligatory and during the day long lines were seen at polling places in various cities around the country, thus suggesting that voter participation has been higher than normal for nationwide votes.

Gaston Fuenzalida, an electoral delegate in the capital neighborhood of Providencia, told EFE that generally only elderly people were voting, adding that about 60 percent of the people on the voter rolls had cast ballots.

Although the polls officially closed at 6 pm, some of the almost 3,000 polling stations are remaining open because, by law, they are obligated to allow any voters standing in line at closing time to enter to cast their ballots, no matter how long that might take.

“I’d be very disappointed if the result of the plebiscite … is (to reject) the text. We would be an inconsequential country,” Joaquin, 35 and one of the last people to vote at a Providencia polling place, told EFE.

EFE mmm/jm/eat/bp

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