Chile’s constitutional plebiscite campaign kicks off amid great uncertainty

By Maria M. Mur

Santiago, Jul 6 (EFE).- The campaign for the Sept. 4 plebiscite on the new constitution officially kicked off on Wednesday in Chile, a country divided between those who yearn for social changes and those who have no trust in the newly prepared constitutional draft.

Early Wednesday morning, various organizations and political parties began deploying their propagandistic machinery to try and convince Chileans to vote in favor of or against the constitutional text that a convention took a year to draft and which was publicly presented on Monday.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, the convention lost adherents due to internal conflicts and assorted scandals that tainted a number of convention members linked to the 2019 social explosion.

The option to approve the new document for months was supported by the majority of Chileans, but recently surveys show a greater preference among the public for rejecting it.

The most recent survey by Data Influye on Wednesday found that 46 percent of those surveyed would “reject” the document, while 41 percent would “approve” it.

Analysts, however, are warning that the issue remains very much an open question and that two months remain before the plebiscite, which will be obligatory for all registered voters, despite the fact that in Chile voting has been voluntary since 2012.

“There are 38 consecutive surveys showing a victory for ‘rejection.’ If the vote were held now, this option would win, but an entire campaign is still (before us) and there’s a lot in play,” Kenneth Bunker, the director of the Tresquintos survey firm, told EFE.

Meanwhile, the director of Latinobarometro, Marta Lagos, told EFE that these two months “are going to be extremely intense” and that the political forces “will exercise all the power they can exercise as never before in the last 30 years.”

The right will vote against the proposal, deeming it to be “radical” and “partisan,” while the left will give it the green light, although in recent hours more moderate figures have distanced themselves from the text, saying that it’s “not good” and “doesn’t represent everyone,” including Manuel Velasco, the country’s finance minister under former President Michelle Bachelet.

The Christian Democrats, one of the biggest parties of the transition, is completely divided and was to hold a congress on Wednesday afternoon to define its stance on the document.

“We’re divided because Chile is divided,” lawmaker Matias Walker told local media.

Members of Apruebo Dignidad (Dignity Approval), the coalition of the leftist Broad Front and the Communist Party via which President Gabriel Boric won the presidential election, passed out flyers early Wednesday in downtown Santiago together with former constitutional convention members and representatives of the Socialist Party, which also forms part of the governing coalition.

“The ‘approval’ (campaign) is the most democratic exercise that we’ve created in Chile,” said former convention member Beatriz Sanchez, referring to the fact that the constitutional process began and will end at the polls.

In October 2020, a year after the massive street protests against social inequality, more than 78 percent of Chileans voted in an historic plebiscite to change the current Constitution, inherited from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship but reformed several times since Chile returned to democracy.

The campaign for “rejection,” headed by the conservative Renovacion Nacional, UDI and Republic Party, had less presence on the streets on Wednesday, but showed up intensively on the communications media and social networks to tout their point of view.

“The process of the constitutional convention failed. They never wanted to build a house for everyone. We have to move forward and keep working after Sept. 4,” tweeted the UDI, which leans toward continuing to reform the current Constitution or launching an entirely new process to replace it.

The start of the campaign was marked by a controversial letter published Tuesday by former Social Democratic President Ricardo Lagos, who governed from 2000-2006, in which he said that neither the draft that will be put to the plebiscite in September nor the current Constitution “are producing consensus.”

“Chile deserves a constitution that produces consensus,” added Lagos, during whose mandate significant reforms were made to the current Constitution, although it remains viewed by part of society as the origin of the inequalities by favoring the privatization of basic services.

Lagos’s remarks came like a bucket of cold water on the leadership of Apruebo, especially among the ranks of the Socialists, where their executive secretary, Camilo Escalona, said that the former president “was mistaken” and that his letter harms the “approval” option.

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