Chileans voted overwhelmingly to change their dictatorship-era constitution in a referendum on Sunday, beginning a process that could upend the political landscape in one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations amid a social backlash against the status quo.
More than 78% of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution, versus almost 22% who want to keep the same charter, according to the national election agency.
“This is historic,” said Roger Figueroa, a 32-year-old in Santiago, where thousands of people sang and waved flags in an emblematic plaza to celebrate the results. “This isn’t only a benefit for us, but for our children, grandchildren and the generations to come.”
Chile, a country of 18 million people, is now set to begin a two-year process to draft a new constitution, a period that political analysts and economists expect will be rife with uncertainty. Voters are expected to elect in April a 155-member assembly to draft the new charter, which will need to be approved in a plebiscite in 2022. Half of the newly elected delegates will be women. The writing of the constitution will coincide with next year’s presidential election.
The new constitution will replace the 1980 charter that was drafted during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He took power in a coup that ousted then-President Salvador Allende, a Marxist whose 1970 election and subsequent nationalizations of key industries turned Chile into a Cold War battleground.