Chile

Resounding victories for leftist and independent candidates saw rightwing politicians crash to dismal electoral defeats alongside those with links to Chile’s transition to democracy. Communist party members in Santiago celebrated victories in the constitutional assembly elections.

The Chilean voters this weekend elected a progressive slate of delegates to the constituent assembly tasked with rewriting the country’s right-wing constitution, which was imposed more than 40 years ago during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship and has continued to reproduce inequality for over three decades since the end of his rule.

Of the 155 citizens elected to the constituent assembly, only 38, which is less than a quarter, came from the right-wing coalition known as Vamos por Chile, El Ciudadano reported.

The Chilean newspaper noted that candidates from the center-left coalition, known as Lista del Apruebo, won 25 seats. Meanwhile, 27 candidates from the left-wing coalition, Apruebo Dignidad, were victorious. Furthermore, 48 seats were picked up by “Independent” candidates whom El Ciudadano described as “mostly linked to social movements in Chile.”

In addition, 17 seats at the constitutional convention were reserved for the representation of Indigenous peoples.

“Today the people, the poorest, the homeless, the women, the Mapuche people won!!!” Karol Cariola, a former student leader in the fight for free, high-quality public higher education and a current congressional representative from the Communist Party of Chile, said Monday on social media. “We are breaking the padlock, which has allowed the right to veto transformations.”

At the polls six months ahead of a pivotal presidential election, Chile’s voters have rejected the ruling political elite. Chile has now turned to a progressive new generation to write the next chapter in its history.

The Chilean left’s triumph this weekend was not limited to electing representatives to the constituent assembly. In a historic victory, Irací Hassler became the first candidate from the Communist Party of Chile to be elected mayor of Santiago’s downtown district when she defeated the current right-wing mayor, Felipe Alessandri.

Resounding victories for leftist and independent candidates saw rightwing politicians crash to dismal electoral defeats alongside those with links to Chile’s transition to democracy. Communist party members in Santiago celebrated victories in the constitutional assembly elections.

The Chilean voters this weekend elected a progressive slate of delegates to the constituent assembly tasked with rewriting the country’s right-wing constitution, which was imposed more than 40 years ago during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship and has continued to reproduce inequality for over three decades since the end of his rule.

Of the 155 citizens elected to the constituent assembly, only 38, which is less than a quarter, came from the right-wing coalition known as Vamos por Chile, El Ciudadano reported.

The Chilean newspaper noted that candidates from the center-left coalition, known as Lista del Apruebo, won 25 seats. Meanwhile, 27 candidates from the left-wing coalition, Apruebo Dignidad, were victorious. Furthermore, 48 seats were picked up by “Independent” candidates whom El Ciudadano described as “mostly linked to social movements in Chile.”

In addition, 17 seats at the constitutional convention were reserved for the representation of Indigenous peoples.

“Today the people, the poorest, the homeless, the women, the Mapuche people won!!!” Karol Cariola, a former student leader in the fight for free, high-quality public higher education and a current congressional representative from the Communist Party of Chile, said Monday on social media. “We are breaking the padlock, which has allowed the right to veto transformations.”

At the polls six months ahead of a pivotal presidential election, Chile’s voters have rejected the ruling political elite. Chile has now turned to a progressive new generation to write the next chapter in its history.

The Chilean left’s triumph this weekend was not limited to electing representatives to the constituent assembly. In a historic victory, Irací Hassler became the first candidate from the Communist Party of Chile to be elected mayor of Santiago’s downtown district when she defeated the current right-wing mayor, Felipe Alessandri.

Across two days of voting, Chileans cast votes for the 155 delegates who will write a new constitution to replace Augusto Pinochet’s 1980 document and the neoliberal model it enshrined.

People also voted for regional governors for the first time ever, as well as for councillors and mayors – with candidates backed by president Sebastián Piñera’s Chile Vamos coalition faring poorly in each case.

Crucially, with the government coalition’s list securing only 37 seats in the assembly, Chile’s traditional right-wing fell well short of the one-third bloc it had targeted to obstruct the inclusion of progressive articles the constitution.

Each bill must be approved by two-thirds of the assembly to be included in the document.

The 155-member assembly will include 47 independent candidates and 17 representing the country’s 10 indigenous groups, whose participation was guaranteed for the first time in Chile.

In late 2019, a mass protest movement exploded in Chile, targeting the country’s insulated and disconnected political elite as well inequalities engendered by the dictatorship’s economic model. From the mass of demands that arose from the demonstrations, a constitutional referendum was scheduled as political parties’ response to the crisis.

On October 25, 2020, Chileans headed to the polls for the plebiscite and an emphatic 78% of voters opted to draft a new constitution.

Candidates who stoked the sentiments of the protests performed strongly, as did those without the baggage of political affiliation.

“This weekend we have seen the categorical rejection of the constitution and the political culture it fomented,” said Fernando Atria, a law professor who has campaigned in favor of writing a new constitution and was elected to the assembly over the weekend.

Fernando Atria said: “The current constitution was designed to prevent transformation and progress, but our role now is to create a new political system that is capable of responding to the demands of the people.”

Candidates backed by the government also did poorly in local elections, losing important mayorships and failing to force their way into gubernatorial run-offs.

In an address from the presidential palace on Sunday night, Piñera recognized that Chile’s “traditional political forces” were “not in tune with people’s demands”.

“This is the triumph of social and political unity,” declared Santiago’s mayor-elect, Irací Hassler, in the city’s Plaza de Armas, flanked by several of the women who won their elections.

“This is the beginning of a significant change in the way we do politics. The protest movement, feminist strikes and socio-environmental movements are here to stay.”

Hassler usurped incumbent Felipe Alessandri, who was running for a second term backed by Piñera’s coalition, to claim the district in the heart of the capital for Chile’s Communist party.

A period of solemn introspection has begun for the country’s traditional political parties, including debate over potential presidential candidates.

However, the Frente Amplio, Chile’s main opposition coalition, which had only recently fragmented and seen doubt cast over its future, managed to perform strongly.

Its presidential candidate, Gabriel Boric, a veteran of Chile’s 2011 education protests, profited from the rush of optimism that accompanied the vote to collect the signatures required to register his candidacy on Monday.

Chileans will vote in presidential and congressional elections in November this year.

Until the vote takes place, the 1980 constitution will remain in force.

79 women and 76 men will form Chile’s Constituent Convention (CC) resulting from this election. Their average age is 45.

Independent representatives obtained 103 seats, thus securing a majority. At least two out of five Chileans opted for candidates who did not run in any of the three major alliances conformed by the traditional parties.

Furthermore, 91.6 percent of the elected representative would include water access, protection, and distribution as a fundamental right and a national public good in the Constitution.

In terms of social rights, 69 percent of the politicians interviewed also stated that the State should guarantee universal access to decent housing.

On equal rights issues, 73 percent of the CC members concur to an equal salary between men and women, and the declaration of Chile as a plurinational state.

Although Indigenous people have 17 reserved seats in the CC, the subnational elections saw a low Indigenous people turnout. There were 1,239,295 qualified electors to vote for Indigenous people’s representatives; however, only 22.81 percent of the Indigenous roll voted.

After a U.S.-backed coup toppled Chile’s democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende, on September 11, 1973, Pinochet’s regime implemented a wave of pro-market policies under anti-democratic circumstances at the behest of economists trained at the University of Chicago. This led to vast inequalities and rendered egalitarian reform exceedingly difficult, even in the post-dictatorship period that began in 1990.

There have been numerous attempts over the past 30 years to rein in market fundamentalism in Chile, but because neoliberalism was so deeply embedded in the country’s 1980 constitution, the reign of Pinochet’s politics outlived the military dictator.

During a historic referendum last October, which represented the culmination of a decades long revolt against the neoliberal model, Chileans voted in a four-to-one landslide to rewrite the dictatorship-era constitution. Notably, voters chose for the new constitution to be written by a popularly elected assembly of constituents rather than a mixed assembly of politicians and citizens.

At the time, political theorist Melany Cruz called the overwhelming popular support for a new constitution a “chance to bury Pinochet’s legacy… and rebuild the country on a truly democratic basis.” Still, the question remained: Who would be in charge of the process? Which of the more than 1,300 candidates would be selected for this monumental task?

During this past weekend’s election — originally scheduled for April but pushed back due to an increase in coronavirus infections — Chileans were finally given a chance to answer that question definitively.

By delivering a knockout blow to the country’s right-wing, voters ensured that a large majority of the 155 delegates responsible for establishing a new political framework at the constituent assembly will be bringing progressive perspectives rather than neoliberal orthodoxy to the table, increasing the likelihood that a genuinely emancipatory constitution gets created.

Greg Grandin, a world-renowned historian of Latin America, tweeted, “Allende is smiling.” Alluding to neoliberalism, Grandin added, “it started in Chile. It will end in Chile.”

Marxist economist Richard Wolff, author of Democracy at Work, among other books, also chimed in with a congratulatory message that highlighted the key role played by women in Chile’s ongoing transformation.

According to Reuters, 77 of the 699 women who ran for seats at the constituent assembly were victorious, compared with 78 of the 674 male candidates.

Women candidates did so well, Reuters noted, that the requirement of parity resulted in adjustments having to be made in favor of more men: “A total of five seats were handed to female candidates who polled lower than male counterparts in certain districts to ensure a 50-50 gender split, while seven seats were handed to men who polled lower.” As the news outlet noted, some “lamented the fact any ceiling had been placed on victorious female candidates at all.”

Last year’s referendum that rendered the transformation of Chile’s constitution possible was not on the political agenda until nationwide protests against austerity erupted in October 2019 following a transit fare hike. As Pablo Abufom wrote at the time, however, the social uprising in Chile is “not about 30 pesos, it’s about 30 years.”

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera — himself a billionaire whose University of Chicago-trained brother served as one of Pinochet’s economists during the military dictatorship — responded viciously to the political unrest, “shooting anti-austerity protesters, blinding and maiming [them] by the thousands,” as Ben Norton documented at The Grayzone.

Despite the government’s violent repression of demonstrations, which killed 36 people, Chilean citizens’ persistent and militant resistance forced Piñera in November 2019 to schedule a plebiscite for April 2020, which was postponed until October of last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The constituent assembly will have nine months to a year to draft a new constitution, the key provisions of which must be approved by a two-thirds majority, necessitating the formation of alliances among members. After that, the Chilean people will be asked next year in another national referendum whether or not they accept the new constitution.


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