10 percent vote for constitutional assembly in unofficial referendum

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Published On : Mon, Dec 16th, 2013

Presidential election special edition: President-elect Michelle Bachelet reiterates her plans for a new constitution though mechanism for change remains unclear.

Women gather on the steps of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo to demonstrate their support for a constitutional assembly. Photo by Emily McHugh / The Santiago Times

Women gather on the steps of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo to demonstrate their support for a constitutional assembly. Photo by Emily McHugh / The Santiago Times

An unofficial referendum calling on the incoming administration to scrap Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution was approved by 10.3 percent of voters who marked “AC” on their ballots Sunday.

A new constitution was one of President-elect Michelle Bachelet’s key campaign pledges, and she reiterated her intent in her acceptance speech.

“Today we Chileans have triumphed in a common longing,” she said. “To have a new constitution, born in democracy, which guarantees that in future the majority will never again be silenced by a minority. A constitution that becomes a social contract, new, modern and renovated, which Chile demands and needs. A constitution which can be the basis of a new relationship between institutions and citizens, which can be the expression, as well as the tool, of good policy.”

Bachelet remained silent, however, on what route she will pursue for the drafting of the new document. While Marca Tu Voto’s initiative proposes to change the constitution through the formation of a constitutional assembly, there are other mechanisms — including the use of a panel of experts — through which the constitution could be replaced.

After months of vigorous campaigning, encouraging Chileans to show their support for a constitutional assembly by marking their ballots with the initials “AC” — the Spanish initials for constitutional assembly — Marca Tu Voto representatives expressed satisfaction with the referendum results, which increased roughly two percent from the first round of voting.

A recent poll released by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) found support for the proposed constitutional assembly to be much higher than was expressed at the ballot box on Sunday, a day in which more than half the electorate stayed at home. The CEP poll, which asked participants if they agreed with the proposed initiative, found 45 percent in favor, a discrepancy that could be explained by the unofficial nature of the vote and uncertainty that surrounded the validity of marked ballots in the first round.

Perla Wilson, spokesperson for Marca Tu Voto, said she hopes the incoming administration will recognize citizen demands, voiced by support for the unofficial referendum, and move towards forming a constitutional assembly.

“Our goal is to have a new constitution,” she told The Santiago Times. “Until there is one, we will continue to protest, to voice demands and to march.”

Marked ballots, containing the “AC” in addition to a choice for presidential candidate, were counted by volunteers for the Marca Tu Voto campaign with the help of poll officials Sunday night.

An issue of some debate in the months preceding the elections, votes marked “AC” were only considered valid if a candidate was clearly marked as well, alienating individuals who might have supported a constitutional assembly but chose not to participate in the elections for other reasons.

However, despite low voter participation, Marca Tu Voto recorded an increase in the percentage of marked votes from the first round of voting, especially in communities outside Santiago.

“The thing worth noting is that the percentage in favor of a constitutional assembly has grown since the last round of voting,” Ignacio Iriarte, spokesperson for Marca Tu Voto told the Santiago Times. “Even though the numbers are still relatively small, this growth is symbolic of forward movement, a sign of change in people’s mentality.”

Communities that showed the greatest increase in support for the initiative included Valparaíso, which went from 7.6 to 12.3 percent, Talca from 4 to 10.9, La Serena from 4.7 to 9 and San Antonio from 3.4 to 9.4.

By Emily McHugh (mchugh@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

This piece is part of The Santiago Times’ “Chile votes 2013″ special edition:

– World reacts to Bachelet election victory
– From endorsement to abstention: how the 7 defeated first round candidates voted
– Wall Street investors allay concerns over Bachelet’s ‘radical’ reforms
– 10 percent vote for constitutional assembly in unofficial referendum
– Disenfranchised Chileans abroad elect Bachelet in symbolic vote

About the Author

Emily McHugh
Emily McHugh
Originally from the U.S., Emily studied journalism at The Evergreen State College before coming to Santiago. Most frequently, she writes about issues of social justice, human rights and the environment. She also enjoys reporting on the arts. Contact her at mchugh@santiagotimes.cl.