Chilean voters prepare to elect the country’s constitutional lawmakers

Chile will vote this weekend among lawmakers drafting its new constitution, with the country’s center-right government facing a battle to maintain its grip on power ahead of a presidential election in November.

Votes for governors, mayors and municipalities that have been postponed due to the pandemic will also take place on Saturday and Sunday, alongside the election to populate the constitutional assembly.

Chile was not spared by the second wave of coronavirus that hit Latin America despite its highest vaccination rates in the region. Confirmed infections reached their highest level on record last month, although numbers have since declined.

“Chile is doing several historic and unprecedented things at the same time. . . in the midst of the economic and health crisis caused by Covid-19, ”said Robert Funk, political scientist.

The most important vote will select the members of the Constituent Assembly charged with rewriting the constitution drafted during the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet – whom most Chileans consider illegitimate.

Almost four-fifths of voters opted for constitutional reform in a referendum in November.

“These elections will likely define Chile’s institutional course over the next decades,” said Gloria de la Fuente of Chile’s Transparency Council. “The vote will have a profound effect on the Chilean political system and civil society. . . elect the authorities to advance the country’s agenda. “

However, the turnover should be lower than that of the referendum. Some 58% of Chileans who took part in a recent Ipsos poll said they were less likely to vote due to the pandemic, while less than half knew they would vote for four different positions.

Chile has become in recent decades one of the richest countries in Latin America, although the deep inequality that sparked widespread social unrest in 2019 is far from resolved.

President Sebastián Piñera’s low approval ratings since these protests have been exacerbated by his government’s defeats in Congress, including on pension reform.

While the left-wing coalition that has dominated Chile for most of the past 30 years has disintegrated since Piñera’s return to power in 2018, its unpopularity could allow the left and center-left to gain a majority. two-thirds of the Constituent Assembly required to adopt each article. of the new document.

“If the right obtains more than 30% [in the assembly], it will be a tremendous victory, ”said Lucia Dammert, sociologist at the University of Santiago.

Despite the relative success of its vaccine deployment, Chile has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. Last summer’s peak of a weekly average of 352 cases per million was exceeded last month, reaching 383. Cases have since fallen back to about 280 cases per million.

However, Piñera’s government has been able to offer more generous Covid-related grants than most other countries in the region.

A hallmark of this weekend’s polls has been the emergence of independent candidates, Dammert said. Yet although traditional parties have been badly hurt by the political turmoil, it would be “an uphill battle” for independents to gain recognition, she said.

There are also wild cards like Pablo Maltes – husband of populist presidential hopeful Pamela Jiles – who is running as governor of the metropolitan region of the capital Santiago.

“If Maltes wins, then there’s definitely something going on with Jiles,” Funk said, as it would suggest she was a serious presidential candidate.

Jiles, who has championed measures to withdraw funds from Chile’s vaunted private pension system, is one of many presidential candidates, with no candidate on the right or left enjoying a clear lead.

Electoral reform under Michelle Bachelet’s previous left-wing government, according to which the increase in proportional representation means that Chileans will for the first time also elect regional governors in a country where power has traditionally resided firmly in Santiago. The elections will also renew nearly a third of local communities.

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