With the great unknown of the percentage of participation, the 46,807 voting tables deployed throughout Chile have begun to close this Sunday at six in the afternoon, local time, after two days of elections that have developed so far flawlessly, as already It is tradition in the South American country. Some 14.9 million citizens have been summoned to elect the 155 drafters of the new Constitution, who will make up a joint body between men and women and with 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples. Voters have also had to choose regional governors and municipal authorities (mayors and councilors). It was a complex vote, with four votes and a large number of applicants. It is also the first time that a Latin American country has scheduled two days of voting for the covid-19 pandemic, which has changed the habits of voters, used to voting only on Sunday. On Saturday, the polls were protected by the Armed Forces and the Electoral Service (Servel), without any incidents being recorded.
As there are four elections, the counting process will last between three and four hours, according to the forecasts of the electoral authorities. It will start with the scrutiny of the conventional ones (first the generals and then the seats reserved for indigenous peoples), which will soon show the level of total participation in these multiple elections. Then, the count of the regional governors will continue, which is the first time that it has been carried out in the history of Chile. The process will end with mayors and councilors, which will show the new map of the political forces, very relevant with a view to the train of six elections that will be held this 2021, including the parliamentary and presidential elections in November.
The participation worries the authorities and experts, especially with a view to the legitimacy of the constituent process, which will reorder Chile. The change of the Constitution was the response of the political class to the citizenry in the midst of the riots of 2019, so a low turnout at the polls would imply little adherence of the people in that institutional exit. According to official figures, on Saturday 20.5% of the electoral roll voted (just over three million voters, out of a total of 14.9 million). There was no consensus around the valuation of that figure. On the one hand, it is an adverse context: in the midst of a pandemic with 37,617 active cases, an economic crisis that makes it difficult even to pay for public transport to go to places that are often far from homes, the postponement of this election (which was originally scheduled for April) and the difficulty of a process with four simultaneous votes.
This is the most important election in the recent history of Chile. There was a supply of candidates like never before. In a context of low legitimacy of the political parties, 68% of the candidates for the convention do not militate in any community. The percentage of vaccinated, meanwhile, has no comparison in Latin America. As of Friday, 9,006,139 people had been vaccinated with the first dose and 7,457,662 with the two doses, that is, 49.1% of the target population. From this Monday, the immunization of healthy thirty-somethings is resumed.
“Beyond the results, the important thing is that there is a good level of participation, ideally not less than 51% -similar to the October referendum-, with a good geographical distribution, according to socioeconomic levels,” says Daniel Zovatto, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of International IDEA, an intergovernmental organization that has analyzed the conduct of elections in the context of a pandemic. For Zovatto, this goal “does not seem easy at all.” “Hopefully it will be achieved to give a good basis of legitimacy to the constituent process, because the Constitution must include everyone,” assures the political scientist, who believes that “Chile should seriously and urgently consider reimposing the mandatory vote.”
With the voluntary suffrage that was implemented in 2012, turnout fell from 87% in 1989 to a record low of 36% in the penultimate municipal elections of 2016. In the constitutional referendum last October, where 80% of the people opted for change the current Constitution, the participation reached 50.91%. Despite the importance of the referendum seven months ago, half of the voters then chose not to vote. In general terms, however, Zovatto highlights that Chile carried out “a successful innovation in Latin America with the double consecutive electoral day”.
With the constituent convention that will begin its functions in June, Chile will redefine itself on fundamental issues. The body will discuss its political regime and government system, because there is some consensus that the Chilean-style presidentialism – exacerbated – showed deficiencies with the revolts of October 2019. It will debate on decentralization and regionalization, in a unitary and strongly centralized state in the capital, like the Chilean. The 155 constituents must agree on different matters related to indigenous peoples, such as their express recognition in the Constitution or multinationality. It is a central issue, given the historical relationship problems between the Mapuche people and the Chilean State that have the Araucanía region in an escalation of violence. The constituent body will discuss the economic development model, the fate of institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the State model – economic and social rights are hot debates – and issues that are especially sensitive for the markets, such as the autonomy of the Central Bank.
One of the aspects that worries at this time in Chile is that participation is again lower in poor and popular municipalities. In La Pintana, in the south of the capital, yesterday there was a participation of 13.69%. In Vitacura, one of the richest, it reached 41.31%. If the constituent path does not summon the vulnerable in Chile, it would be very complex for a new Constitution to be the basis of the new social pact that the Latin American country needs.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.