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LATIN AMERICA | 08-05-2023 10:58

Far-right party wins most seats on Chile's constitution rewrite body

Chile's far-right Republican Party finished in first place Sunday in a nationwide vote to choose the 50 members of a committee that will draft a replacement to the country's dictatorship-era constitution.

Chile's far-right Partido Republicano (Republican Party) finished in first place Sunday in a nationwide vote to choose the 50 members of a committee that will draft a replacement to the country's dictatorship-era constitution, according to an official count.

The Servel election authority reported that with almost all ballots counted, the Republican Party had won 35 percent of the vote, corresponding to 22 seats on the constitutional rewrite committee.

Traditional right-wing parties won a further 21 percent, giving conservatives an additional 11 seats, while the left-wing coalition supported by President Gabriel Boric finished with 29 percent, or 11 committee members.

It is the second time that voters in Chile have been called to take part in the rewriting of the 1980 constitution, adopted under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

In September, a previous text produced by a constitutional assembly made up mostly of political independents was rejected by 62 percent of voters.

The results by the far-right Republican Party, which has always opposed the constitutional rewrite process, was "much more than any forecast had expected," Claudia Heiss, head of the Political Science programme at the University of Chile, told AFP.

There were 350 people vying to be elected to the 50-member constitutional committee.

"The ideas of common sense have triumphed," said Republican Party leader José Antonio Kast, who founded the party in 2019 and lost to Boric in the December 2021 presidential run-off.

Kast has expressed kinship with other populist conservative leaders such as Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump in the United States and Spain's far-right Vox party.

With 22 committee members, the Republican Party "does not need to negotiate with anyone, they can write the constitution they want" and "have the power to veto any modification," Heiss said.

 

No 'vendettas'

The new committee will be given a preliminary text, drawn up by experts, that includes 12 essential principles that cannot be modified.

The committee must then come up with a new constitution that will be put to a public vote in December.

In a speech after the results were announced on Sunday, Boric called for members of the committee to act "with wisdom and temperance" and to avoid the uncompromising positions that led to failure in the first rewrite attempt – then led by a leftist coalition.

"The previous process failed, among other things, because we were unable to listen to those who thought differently," said the left-wing leader, who also called for the process to be launched without "vendettas."

The government of conservative former president Sebastián Piñera had agreed to hold a referendum on a new constitution in a bid to ease mass protests that broke out in October 2019 against social inequality.

"As a country, we have a historic opportunity to reconcile ourselves after the fractures we've lived through and to advance toward a developed and inclusive country," Boric said ahead of the vote.

At age 35, Boric rode the wave of public discontent to be elected Chile's youngest-ever leader in late 2021.

Unlike the previous constitutional assembly, elected in May 2021, only candidates of political parties were allowed to stand in Sunday's election.

The final committee, which must be made up of 25 men and 25 women, will begin its work in June.

According to polls, only 31 percent of Chileans are interested in the process of writing a new constitution.

Despite that general apathy, around 80 percent of the more than 15 million eligible Chileans took part in the election Sunday, according to official figures.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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