What is at stake in the upcoming elections in Chile | Election News

Santiago, Chile – On a sunny winter day in the Chilean capital, a group of neighbors in La Reina, a province in the eastern part of Santiago, gathered to support candidates for the Constitutional Convention, days before will be the most important election in the country. In good spirits, they waved flags, laughed and greeted each other on their elbows. They put on a mask and shared the alcohol gel.

Renato Garrido, one of the candidates, urged the people to vote because, he said: “A new constitution is the only way our country can have participation, justice, real freedom and development. .If the citizens feel that they feel they can reach agreements, with respect and tolerance of all opinions We must do this because of our love for Chile. ”

On May 15 and 16, Chileans will go to the polls to elect 155 members of the Constitutional Convention. Its mission is to write a new constitution that must be submitted to a referendum in 2022. After a long struggle, the current constitution – written in the 80s under the Pinochet dictatorship and much scratched -or in recent years.

More than 1,300 candidates will compete to become members of the Constitutional Convention. For the first time, this election incorporates the requirement of gender equality-giving women a proportional number of seats, and will include 17 reserved areas for Indigenous peoples.

Supporters rally at the Constitutional Convention at Plaza Egaña metro station, in Santiago, Chile [Odette Magnet/Al Jazeera]

Election experts fear that people may not vote in large numbers – not just because of the pandemic disease but because the government releases little information about the whole process.

“Neither the state nor the government seriously acknowledges that part of the population is unaware that the election will take place this weekend,” Marta Lagos, director of Mori Chile, a well-known polling company, told the national television.

Chilean voters will also elect mayors, governors and town councilors across the country. The presidential election is set for November.

The ambitious election calendar will be implemented as the country suffers from difficult times: a state of emergency, a nightly curfew, more than 10 percent of the working population (two and a half million people) without work, and a pandemic that killed nearly 27,000 people. Elections were originally planned for April but were postponed due to the large number of people infected with the coronavirus.

Health authorities have insisted that Chileans can vote in a safe environment as cases have decreased in recent weeks, thanks in part to Chile’s successful vaccination campaign.

More than seven million people have already received their two shots (47 percent of the “target population”). But the nightmare is not over – about 40 percent of the country is still in lockdown.

According to Javiera Parada, a cultural consultant, what is at stake in the upcoming election is “an agreement with the social political generation – one that will allow us to regain civil unity and transform our institutions and the legitimate.

“Chile really needs to make rules that call on all of us. This is the key if we want to get back on the path to sustainable development. People know that constitutional change is not enough, but it is necessary for a country with institutions that serve the times and new society in which we live. I believe in the people, I believe in Chile and its future. “

In October, Chileans sent a clear message to a national plebiscite in which 78 percent approved the writing of a new constitution to elected members. They have nine months to write the new constitution – a deadline that could be extended by an additional three months.

Not everyone is enthusiastic.

“The Constitutional Convention is the result of a crippled agreement reached by Congress behind us. It will become a passing constitution and in a few years, we will have a new uprising in society because the people’s demands cannot be met, “Moisés Scherman, an economist, told Al Jazeera. Scherman said he intended to ruin his ballot.

Most Chileans appear to agree on one point. Economic growth should lead to comfort and well -being for everyone, and not just a few.

Over the past two decades, Chile has made progress towards greater economic prosperity and greater poverty. Per capita income has more than doubled in the last 20 years and is now the highest in Latin America but growth has stopped. The economy is growing, but under the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera, one percent of the population owns 25 percent of the country’s wealth. This is the state of affairs that sparked the historic social uprisings of October 2019, which were brutally suppressed by the police.

The unrest is the result of people’s dissatisfaction with the economic model and state of inequality in the country. More than 3,700 people were injured by police (Carabineros) during protests in October, according to a February 2020 report by Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights.

Supporters rally at the Constitutional Convention at Plaza Egaña metro station, in Santiago, Chile [Odette Magnet/Al Jazeera]

Some political analysts are concerned that the expectations of the new constitution may be overly ambitious and fail to reflect social realities. Citizens want to include a wide range of issues: human rights, women and workers, health, education, pension funds, child protection and protection, social welfare, fight crime, gender equality, environment , domestic violence, freedom of expression. , and so on.

Patricio Navia, a professor of political science at NYU and Universidad Diego Portales in Chile, says that “people have high expectations about the new constitution. Many people see it as a magic pill to solve all Chile’s problems. People are in for a rude awakening when the new constitution is announced and none of the promises are fulfilled. “

Navia believes that, in order for Chile to expand the social safety net, “the country needs to be able to develop the economy more than ever before. For this to happen, there must be clear rules to attract foreign investment and a level of play to guarantee equal opportunities for all. ”

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