Santiago, Chile – Maribel Mora Curriao, a Mapuche poet who lives in the Chilean capital, was delighted to vote on Sunday in what she described as a “historic election for the Mapuche people ”.
Curriao flew to Freire, a small town in southern Chile, to vote – and be closer to her roots.
“We are voting with pride and identity for the first time. We have taken this process very seriously and we are fully aware that this is a unique opportunity not only for us but for the Chilean people as a whole, ”she told Al Jazeera.
“What will happen from now on will not happen without the Mapuche communities. It’s now or never.”
Chileans began voting on Saturday in a two-day election for mayors, governors and city councilors across the South American country.
Voters also select 155 representatives to form a Constitutional Convention tasked with drafting a new constitution to replace the current one, drafted in the 1980s under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“Everything is under control,” Andres Tagle, chairman of the Election Service Council, said of the vote, the results of which are expected to be released late Sunday evening.
For the first time in the history of Chile, the ballot boxes were sealed and kept inside the polling places on Saturday evening. Election officials kept the ballot boxes sealed at 2,700 polling stations across the country, including schools and churches, and the Defense Ministry sent more than 23,000 troops to protect them as an additional security measure.
“If there is an attempted fraud, we will find out,” Tagle said.
On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera encouraged people to vote, saying “to vote is to honor democracy and our society”. He tweeted: “Today the voice of the people must be heard in this historic election.”
Representatives chosen to join the Constitutional Convention will have nine months, with a possible three-month extension, to draft Chile’s new constitution. It will then go to voters in a plebiscite next year, and voting will be compulsory.
Monica Manriquez, 83, was the first to vote at Luis Arrieta Cañas Primary School in Peñalolen County in Santiago. It was 8:30 am local time and there were very few people.
“I want to participate in all possible ways in shaping the future of our country,” Manriquez told Al Jazeera. “Elections significantly define the fate of a nation.”
The turnout was low on both days, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. According to the Election Service Council, 20% of Chile’s 14 million eligible voters – some three million people – voted on Saturday.
Political analysts said the low turnout was in part due to a lack of information and the COVID-19 pandemic. Chile has reported more than 27,800 coronavirus-related deaths and more than 1.28 million cases to date.
Although government officials assured the public that the vote would take place safely amid the pandemic, the country’s health minister on Saturday urged the public to “vote and go home.”
Election experts say voter turnout is set to reach the same level as the October plebiscite of last year, when Chileans voted 78 percent in favor of rewriting the constitution. About 51 percent of Chileans participated in this process.
Luna Follegati, historian and feminist, voted on Sunday morning and stressed the importance of having a voice in drafting the new constitution.
“Without feminism, there is no social transformation,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Today, our feminist demands must be included when it comes to drafting a new constitution. Otherwise, we will continue with a poor democracy with a political system that goes against the rights and freedom of women. The feminist movement has been clear lately: we will not go back to silence. “