By Maria M. Mur
Santiago, May 11 (EFE).- A total of 1,373 candidates are in the running to be selected to draft a new Chilean constitution, including independents, activists, professionals and academics, and voters are being called to the polls this weekend to select 155 of them to serve on the committee.
But how can the average voter become informed about who to select from among this huge number of hopefuls? One group of friends in the communications space has hit upon a solution: creating an app similar to the ones used by Chileans to find their perfect dating “match” to help them select the candidates that best reflect their own views on various political, economic and social issues.
“We wanted to provide information to people in an entertaining way, so they wouldn’t have to be reading, looking on the Internet or listening to political programs where nobody says anything,” the director of “Votamos todos” (Let’s all vote), Estela Cabezas, told EFE.
The 155 candidates selected will draft the country’s new charter, thus setting the “rules of the game” in Chile for the coming decades, a process that was launched after massive protests in late 2019 where a large part of society expressed their hopes and demands for political change.
Jaime Abedrapo, the director of the Government School within the Law Faculty at San Sebastian University (USS), said that “It’s an historic process in form and content, the most important since the 1988 plebiscite” that marked the beginning of the end of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
The way the online platform works is simple: Each user must fill out a questionnaire of up to 70 questions and, after comparing the responses, the app will present the voter with the candidates that correspond most closely to his/her positions on various issues.
Among the questions are essential ones like where they stand on having a presidential political system, deprivatizing the water supply and the role of the Central Bank, along with other more current questions such as whether marijuana or abortion should be legalized.
Cabezas said that “The questions simplify reality – which is much more complicated – a lot, but they help get voters and candidates closer together.”
Since its launching, more than 32,000 people have downloaded the app and about 70 percent of the candidates have filled out the questionnaires.
“It’s been tougher for us to get to the candidates of the political parties (than to the independents). They’re less given to completing this kind of questionnaire because it takes away their party discipline and (their ability to give) empty speeches,” Cabezas said.
The app is free and seeks to “equalize” the candidates after an election campaign that has been under way for more than a month, since the elections were to have been held in April but were postponed due to the virulent second wave of Covid-19 that is besetting Chile.
“The Aymara representatives who is a member of a neighborhood board has the same opportunities to sell his ideas as a representative of the (center-right) Evopoli party who lives in Vitacura (one of Santiago’s wealthiest neighborhoods) and who has the personal resources to pay for the campaign,” Cabezas added.
In addition to the constitutional committee election, Chile will also vote for mayors, councilmen and regional governors, and a total of 16,730 candidates are vying for the various posts.
“We don’t want this to be more complicated, that’s why we’re undertaking a widespread campaign calling on the public to vote in an informed way and to get to know their candidates beforehand and their locations on the ballots,” the director of the Electoral Service, Raul Garcia, told EFE.
The big unknown is whether the complicated nature of these elections will affect Chile’s declining voter turnout, which has not exceeded 50 percent since voting was made obligatory in 2012, with the exception of last October’s plebiscite, when 50.9 percent of Chileans voted to shelve the current constitution as a relic of the dictatorship.
The main researcher at the COES conflict and social cohesion studies center, Emmanuelle Barozet, told EFE that the pandemic has been largely to blame for low voter turnout. So far, Chile has suffered 27,000 Covid-19 deaths and more than 1.2 million confirmed cases.
In October, Barozet said, many seniors stayed at home for fear of becoming infected with Covid if they ventured out to the polls, but now many more are vaccinated and expectations are that voter turnout will be higher.
Abedrapo, however, believes that now there is less enthusiasm than last October among the public for the vote and that the postponement of the elections has been the root cause of that.
“There’s been a lot of surrounding noise in recent months, with a political and information agenda marked by pension reform and the pandemic and it’s been very difficult to get constitutional messages across,” he said.