Chilean voters reject conservative-written constitution; will continue to run on Pinochet-era set of laws

Chilean voters headed to the polls on Sunday and rejected a proposed constitution written by conservatives to replace the country’s current Pinochet-era set of laws, created when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, a dictator, ran the country.

The Associated Press reported that as of late Sunday, 96% of the votes had been counted, with 55.8% opposed to the new charter and about 44.2% in favor.

The results come over a year after citizens of the country rejected a proposed constitution written by left-leaning lawmakers, which was characterized as one of the world’s most progressive charters.

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People against the draft of a new constitution celebrate after the polls closed in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023. For the second time in as many years, Chileans voted in a referendum on whether to replace the current constitution which dates back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

But even the new charter, which was drafted largely by conservatives, was criticized for being more conservative than the one it was looking to replace – it aimed to deepen free-market principles, may have limited some rights of women, and reduced state intervention.

“From a perspective of coherence and respect for democracy, we recognize the results, Javier Macaya, the leader of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party said as he recognized the charter’s defeat.

The defeat means the Pinochet-era constitution will remain in effect. The constitution has been amended several times over the years.

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Chilean poll worker

A poll worker prepares for a referendum vote on the draft of a new constitution in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023. For the second time in as many years, Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the current constitution which dates back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Ex-President Michelle Bachelet hoped, when she voted, that it would be defeated and that the current constitution would remain.

“I prefer something bad to something worse,” the AP reported Bachelet as saying.

The proposed constitution contained articles that some found controversial.

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Chile’s President Gabriel Boric

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric greets supporters as he arrives to vote on the draft of a new constitution in Punta Arenas, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023. For the second time in as many years, Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the current constitution which dates back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  (AP Photo/Andres Poblete)

For example, the drafted proposal said, “the law protects the life of the unborn,” which some feared would have made abortion fully illegal in Chile.

The country currently allows abortions for reasons of rape, if the mother’s life is at risk and if the fetus is unviable.

Another article under the proposed constitution would allow prisoners who suffer terminal illness and who are not considered to be a danger to society, to be granted house arrest.

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Chilean poll worker

A poll worker prepares for a referendum vote on the draft of a new constitution in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023. For the second time in as many years, Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the current constitution which dates back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

But some of the left-wing opposition argued the measure may benefit people who were convicted of crimes against humanity during the Pinochet-era, when the dictator ruled between 1973 and 1990.

Lawmakers began writing a new constitution after protests in 2019, when thousands complained about the inequality in one of South America’s strongest countries, which was also politically stable.

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People celebrate after the polls

People against the draft of a new constitution celebrate after the polls closed in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023. For the second time in as many years, Chileans voted in a referendum on whether to replace the current constitution which dates back to the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  (AP Photo/Matias Basualdo)

In 2022, voters rejected a proposed constitution that would have characterized the country as a plurinational state, prioritized the environment and gender parity, and established autonomous Indigenous territories.

The AP reported that one of the more recent polls by local firm Cadem indicated 46% of the people surveyed would vote against the new constitution, and 38% would vote in favor.

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Based on Sunday’s results, the difference was much closer than expected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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