Chile’s 2020 Constituent Plebiscite

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 21 (En Español)

On November 15 2019, only a few days after the one-month anniversary of the social protests in Chile, a group of political parties signed an Agreement for Peace and New Constitution. The declaration was a collaborative effort and a document agreed upon after long hours of discussion and negotiation. The agreement was the basis of a proposal to pursue a plebiscite (Law 21200) to choose between two options: whether the Chilean people are for or against changing the current constitution. Based on this agreement, the parties came up with a pathway to carry up the process with an election date of April 26, 2020. Due to the pandemic, the plebiscite’s date was changed to October 25, 2020 (Law 21221). In the agreement, 12 points were established, of which the following ones are worth highlighting:

“1. The parties which subscribe to this agreement, guarantee their commitment to establishing peace and public order in Chile and the complete respect of human rights and the current democratic institutionality. 

2. A plebiscite will be pursued during the month of April 2020 to ask two questions: 

  1. Would you like a new Constitution? Agree or Reject
  2. What type of convention should redact the new Constitution? Mixed Convention or Constitutional Convention

3. The Mixed Convention will be composed of equal parts of elected members specifically for the purposes of this convention and current parliamentarians. 

4. In the case of the Constitutional Convention, all members will be elected for this sole purpose. The election of members will take place in Octobre 2020, together with the regional and municipal elections under universal suffrage and with the same electoral system used to elect deputies in the corresponding proportion.”

Path to the Plebiscite

The pathway to the 2020 Plebiscite was deeply disrupted with the beginning of the pandemic in Chile. The process had to adjust its dates and it was not exempt from speculations on whether or not the correct conditions were in place to ensure a massive participation without risk or minimizing contagions. Despite the multiple questions and uncertainties, this democratic act of popular election took place with the following noteworthy dates. On May 28, a list of public places where official campaigning may take place was published. Electoral campaigning began in radio and written press on August 26 and afterwards on September 25, TV campaigning began. On October 1, the electoral ballots were officially unveiled. All campaigning ended officially on October 22. The constituent plebiscite took place on October 25.

COVID-19 and Citizens’ Participation in the Plebiscite

The role of the pandemic in the results of the plebiscite was a popular topic of discussion and a major source of attention before and during the electoral process. The first thing to consider is the percentage of those who voted in relation to the crucial moment of a pandemic rapidly developing in Chile as well as the rest of the world. A lot was speculated about a scenario without any real antecedents to compare it with and to predict the impact on Chileans’ decision to vote.

Against all predictions, the 2020 October plebiscite in Chile was one of the most participated election in the country’s history since the beginning of voluntary voting. It demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that the Chileans were clear on the importance and significance of this civic act. Facing innumerable fears, mistrust and prejudices brought by the pandemic, Chileans made use of their democratic right of voicing their wills through the voting ballots. It was a transparent and well-organized process, which was not exempt from “curious” and unfortunate situations in which there were also reports of abuse of power from police officers.

On October 25, Chileans gave us a lesson on civics and legitimacy about the decisions which involve the collective construction of the fundamental charter with the steps to follow.

Full results on how Chileans voted. (Servel, 2020)

Table 1: Results on the Question, Would you like a new Constitution?
Table 2: Results on the Question: What type of Convention to redact the new Constitution?
Table 3: Percentage of Participation

By María Antonieta Ubillo and María Angélica Fuentes

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