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Chile: start of the electoral “marathon”

After decades of political conflicts, according to a number of experts, Chile is embarking on the path of democratic constitutionalism. On July 4, the Chilean capital hosted the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly, whose task is to develop and approve a new national Constitution. In this context, on July 18, the Chileans elected two presidential candidates out of six politicians nominated by two party alliances. How did the electoral process go? Who became its main characters?

July 4 has long been the “red day” of the world political calendar, because this date is associated with the United States Independence Day. However, in 2021, this date marked a new important milestone in the history of world democracy: on this day, the Inaugural Session of the Constituent Assembly took place in the building of the National Congress in Santiago de Chile, whose task is to develop and approve a new basic law.

The development of this legislative document by the Constituent Assembly of Chile began on July 4 and will last 9 months with a possible subsequent extension of the work on the project. “For the first time in our history, we will democratically create a new Constitution for Chile,” said the President of the Latin American country, Sebastian Piñera (Spanish – Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique). According to the Chilean head of state, “this is an excellent opportunity to reach broad and lasting agreements, which will allow the drafting of a new basic law”.

It is worth referring to the events of recent years. On October 25, 2020, a referendum was held in the South American country on the need to develop a new Constitution to replace the document adopted during the years of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). On this day, the Chileans took part in the National Plebiscite, at which the main question was raised: “Do you want a new constitution?” – “Yes” was answered by 78.26% of Chileans. Following the announcement of the results, 155 representatives, roughly half men and women, were elected to write the new Chilean Constitution in mid-May this year.

The draft Constitution, on which the Constituent Assembly is already working, will be presented at a referendum in the second half of 2022, where the Chileans will have to decide whether they approve the new text of the basic law. The new Constitution will include those provisions that will be supported by two-thirds of the 155 members of the Constituent Assembly.

It should be emphasized that the development and adoption of a new basic law became one of the requirements of the participants in the wave of mass demonstrations that swept Chile since October 2019. Then the municipal government of Santiago once again increased the price of metro pass by 30 Chilean pesos. At the very beginning scattered groups of the student movement protested against, as it seemed at first glance, such a slight increase in cost, but gradually tens of thousands of people began to join them, including in other large cities. The rise in the price of the metro pass in the Chilean capital was a catalyst for social discontent and tension. The protesters began to demand sweeping economic and democratic reforms in the country, as well as the resignation of the president, the dissolution of the government and parliament.

Mass demonstrations that swept Chile since October 2019, Santiago de Chile, November 2019. Source: CELAG.

After the escalation of this conflict, the Chilean leader Sebastian Piñera agreed to cancel the rise in the cost of metro pass, and also slightly increased the minimum wages and pensions, nevertheless, the protests continued and gradually began to gain traction. On October 18, 2019, for the first time in 30 years of democracy in Chile, a state of emergency was declared, the military entered the capital in armored vehicles. Social unrest and protests in the country continued and stopped only in March 2020, when a general quarantine was introduced in Chile. Then, due to the current situation, the Piñera government had to abandon the Summit of the leaders of the countries participating in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in November and the UN Conference on Climate Change in December 2019.

In such a difficult context, the electoral process kicked off on July 18, as a result of which the Chileans chose two presidential candidates out of six politicians nominated by two party alliances. Chile’s presidential elections are scheduled for November 21. On this day, the citizens of the Latin American country will elect the head of state for the period 2022–2026, and will also cast their votes at the same time as deputies, senators and members of regional councils. In case of a second round of elections, it will take place on December 19, 2021.

According to the results of the electoral process held on Sunday, two candidates were identified who on November 21 will become the main “heroes” of the struggle for the presidency: Gabriel Boric Font from the left coalition “I Approve Dignity” (Spanish – Apruebo Dignidad) and Sebastian Sichel (Spanish – Sebastián Iglesias Sichel Ramírez) from the right platform “Chile, go!” (Spanish – Chile Vamos).

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The winners of the electoral process on July 18, 2021: Gabriel Boric Font from the left coalition “I Approve Dignity” and Sebastian Sichel from the right platform “Chile, go”

It is worth briefly referring to the political portraits of the winners. Gabriel Boric Font became the youngest candidate in the internal party primaries. Gabriel Boric, 35-year-old, is one of the foremost political figures in Chile. Boric is a lawyer and social scientist by training, politician and MP from the Magallanes region and Chilean Antarctica. The left-wing candidate promises to restore the economy and health care. He intends to ensure democratic and equitable participation of employees in the management structures of companies. In the economy, Boric promises to carry out tax reform to stimulate the manufacturing sector.

Sebastian Sichel is a 43-year-old Chilean politician and lawyer who served as head of the State Bank from June to December 2020. Previously, he served as Minister of Social Development and Family. The candidate of the right-wing “Chile, go!” states that if he wins, he will devote the first 100 days of his presidency to reducing bureaucracy, promoting free enterprise and strengthening social safety nets. Sichel promises to improve the personal system of pension savings by providing an opportunity to choose the insured.

In the coming months, the Chileans face a range of structural challenges. First of all, it’s necessary talk about the adoption of the Constitution. Following the 2020 National Plebiscite, the Chilean government is faced with new challenges. The society has thoroughly supported the adoption of the new Constitution. However, now the Chilean leadership needs to launch a large-scale mechanism for the preparation and subsequent approval of the country’s main constituent document, which is already planned in the form of a referendum for the first half of 2022.Secondly, the presidential election, which is scheduled for November 2021, will become not only the defining chord of the new political course of the country, but will also pave the way for transformations in the definition of Chilean democracy within the framework of the country’s new basic law.

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