On a chilly spring day in 2019, the Cat Camplido raised the banner and joined more than a million people marching through the streets of the Chilean capital of Santiago, demanding more equality and major changes in their political system.
The 33-year-old is now handing out flyers with her name on, hoping to be elected this weekend to a group of representatives who will spearhead the historic rewrite of the Andean country’s constitution over the next year.
“These protests were like an avalanche, an expression of the rage that has built up over the years against the neoliberal system,” said Cumplido, a historian at the Chilean National Library who calls herself a feminist and says she wants more citizen representation in politics.
“We need to deepen democracy, make it more flexible, more in tune with what is happening today, and this really led me to believe that we need a new constitution.”
On Saturday and Sunday, Chileans will vote to elect 155 members to a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution to replace the Chilean charter that was drafted during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship.
Investors who have taken refuge in the troubled region of the Chilean free market system are watching the historic process with dismay, and the 78% of people who voted in favor of such changes in October last year have high hopes.
Cumplido is among 1,278 potential candidates, including politicians, activists, scientists, models, broadcasters and journalists.
Half of the congregation will be composed of men and half women, and 17 seats are reserved for representatives of the indigenous communities of Chile. Often living on the margins of society, far from the capital, they are not recognized in this Charter and are seeking change, including teaching Indigenous history in schools and greater acceptance of traditional medicine.
“WE MUST BE THERE”
In an effort to stand out in a crowded field, candidates have taken extreme steps to demonstrate what they stand for.
Marcela Cubillos, a former minister of environment and education in the government of conservative President Sebastian Pinera, hopes to represent the upmarket neighborhoods of Santiago – the only parts of the country to vote in October to reject constitutional changes.
She put basil seeds in her campaign brochure that voters can plant in their gardens and embellish it with the slogan “We should be there.” The Chilean right is seeking at least a third of the seats in the new body, which would allow them to block changes they consider too radical.
Delegates will spend a maximum of 12 months negotiating and drafting a new text with a two-thirds majority required for each key decision.
Cristobal Bellolio, a radio host and scientist wearing a hipster beard, is focused on gathering the voices of young, educated Chileans who support change.
On Wednesday, as he campaigned at traffic lights in the middle-class suburb of Santiago, La Reina, he was greeted with cheerful honks and people refusing to roll down their windows to accept the brochure.
22-year-old Maite Labra, pushing a stroller nearby, looked warily at the waving flag. “To be honest, I have no idea what this weekend is about,” she said. “I voted for the new constitution, but I am a little lost on what is going on.”
Bellolio said it’s been so long since the 2019 protests broke out that it hasn’t been easy to get people involved, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of people are just not in a pre-election mood,” he said. “The pandemic, the vaccination process, the economic crisis, the (November) presidential elections … Too much talk is going on in parallel, so it’s hard to get them to redouble their efforts. But the stakes are high. “
THE CONSTITUTION UNITING US
In the 2020 referendum, four-fifths of voters said they want the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected assembly of citizens rather than a mixed assembly of legislators and citizens, reflecting a general lack of confidence in Chile’s political class.
But a significant number of politicians resigned in order to be able to run.
Among them is Hernan Larraine, the former head of the center-right Evoopoli party and an adviser to Pinera during his first presidential term.
He said Chilean politicians were too busy fighting among themselves to implement urgently needed reforms in problem areas such as pensions and are now responsible for fixing things.
“If you don’t have political parties, you have populism and strong men that are so typical of our region,” he said. “The 1980 Constitution divided us because of its origins, this constitution should unite us and we must find a consensus.”
Preliminary results, which will show whether candidates belonging to Pinera’s center-right coalition received a third of the seats in the body, are to be presented late Sunday evening.
A referendum on the new constitution is due in about a year.
Cumplido said transparency and good governance will be key at every stage.
“People have become even more vulnerable after the pandemic and more anger than when protests first broke out,” she said. “We have to be very careful and strive to build trust through this process so that we carry people along with us.”
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