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Jubilation as Chile votes to rewrite constitution

Chileans have voted overwhelmingly in support of rewriting their constitution, which dates to the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet.

With nearly 90% of the vote counted, 78% of people had voted “yes” in a referendum that was called after mass protests against inequality.

President Sebastian Piñera acknowledged the result and praised the peaceful vote.

He said it was “the beginning of a path that we must all walk together”.

A mass anti-government protest movement began in Chile a year ago. From the beginning one of the demonstrators’ key demands was that the country needed a new constitution to be able to fix deep inequalities in society.

“Until now, the constitution has divided us,” Mr Piñera said as people took to the streets in celebration. “From today we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future.”

Election officials count ballots after polls closed at a school used as a polling station during a referendum on a new Chilean constitution in Concepcion, Chile, October 25, 2020
image captionThe referendum was delayed by seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic

The referendum asked Chileans two questions – firstly, if they wanted a new constitution, and secondly, what kind of body they would want to draw it up.

A large majority have voted for the new constitution to be drafted by a convention made up entirely of elected citizens, as opposed to one that would also include lawmakers.

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Celebration but hard work has just begun

Analysis box by Katy Watson, South America correspondent

As the results came in, the word REBIRTH was projected onto a building in downtown Santiago.

For so many Chileans, this is exactly what this vote represents: goodbye to a dictatorship-era constitution, and hello to a new beginning that people feel is more fitting for a modern democracy.

Sunday’s vote caps a turbulent year for Chile – and this vote is the result of months of mass protests, calling for meaningful change.

But in a way, the hard work has only just begun, because it kickstarts a whole new process whereby Chileans now have to choose who will draft the constitution and what it will say.

This evening’s jubilation is uplifting but the demands are many and the expectations are high.

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Thousands of people began holding celebrations in Santiago and other cities even before the result was clear. A yes vote had been expected.

Poverty levels have dropped dramatically in Chile over the last 20 years – it is now the richest country in South America on a per capita basis.

But it remains one of the world’s most unequal nations. Many blame a system that has part-privatised services and utilities.

People take part in a protest against Chiles government
image captionMore than 30 people lost their lives in a series of protests that started last year

The current constitution was drawn up in 1980 after a referendum under Gen Pinochet, whose 17-year military rule was characterised by repression, torture and disappearances.

The referendum had initially been scheduled for April but was postponed as Chile went into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

A 155-member constitutional convention will now have to be voted in by April 2021. The convention will have a year to agree on a draft text, which will then be put to another public vote.

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