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Chileans weigh a new constitution


People in Chile go to the polls tomorrow to approve a new constitution or not. Three years ago, massive anti-government protests led the country to create a special assembly to draft a new constitution. And now voters will face two choices on their ballots - approve or reject. Francisca Skoknic is a journalist for the Chilean outlet LaBot and joins us now from Santiago.

Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANCISCA SKOKNIC: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Help us understand how Chile got there. How did the special assembly agree to any text for the new constitution?

SKOKNIC: Well, it's been a very intense process. It started with the referendum where it was a huge support for drafting a new constitution. And then the Chilean elected an assembly called Constitutional Convention. That was very unique. Members were elected with certain conditions, like the same number of men and women and also a number of reserved seats for Indigenous people. Many members were not part of political parties, so there was a more accurate reflection of the country than the Congress. But also, the right wing of the country was underrepresented. So during the constitutional debate, the leftist groups had a lot of power. But there was a two-thirds majority requirement to approve norms, and the result of the draft was more balanced.

SIMON: What are some of the main items in the proposed new constitution that stand out for you?

SKOKNIC: Will increase the catalog of social rights, and the role of the states get stronger. For example, the pension system would no longer be privately managed. The role of the state in providing health care gets bigger. And there is a focus on public education. There are also big social changes, like, for example, it mandates that Chile will be a parity state, with women guaranteed at least 50% of positions in public institutions. It also states that Chile would be an ecological state, recognizes the challenge of climate change. And one of the most controversial topics is that it states that Chile will be a plurinational country, recognizing the rights of the Indigenous people.

SIMON: Looks a lot different than the current constitution, doesn't it?

SKOKNIC: Yeah. It's very, very different. We should remember that Chile's current constitution was written during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1980. And even though it has been amended several times, in general, it favors private enterprise and limited the role of the state.

SIMON: Do opinion polls suggest that voters will approve or reject it?

SKOKNIC: Well, opinion polls say that they will likely reject the proposals, but there's a lot of uncertainty because, for the first time, tomorrow's vote will be mandatory. So the polling may be not as reliable as it usually is. Many people were disappointed by the work of the constitutional convention during the process. So many voters fear all the changes it would bring. But we don't really know what will happen tomorrow.

SIMON: And what happens after the vote one way or another?

SKOKNIC: We don't really know. People that support the new proposals of the constitution - they are also proposing changes once it's approved. But if it is rejected, the law said that we will keep the current constitution. But we don't really know how it will look.

SIMON: What do you hear from people? What's the mood in the country as it approaches this day?

SKOKNIC: It's very tense. We have spent three years of political debate, and also, we had the pandemic, with a lot of restrictions. So the mood is very, very tense, but also, people are very tired.

SIMON: Francisca Skoknic, who is a journalist for LaBot in Santiago, Chile.

Thanks so much for being with us.

SKOKNIC: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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