Chile postpones constitutional assembly poll as COVID cases spike

President Sebastian Pinera says election scheduled for April will now be held in May to combat the rise in coronavirus infections.

President Sebastian Pinera said the decision to postpone the vote has been 'a very difficult' one [AFP]

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Sunday he will ask Congress to postpone the election of an assembly to write a new constitution for the country from April until May, due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

The country has seen a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections since the end of Southern Hemisphere summer vacation season last month.

“The elections that were to be held on Saturday April 10 and Sunday April 11, will be held on the weekend of Saturday the 16th of May,” Pinera said in a televised speech.

The vote is to elect not only members of the Constituent Assembly, in charge of writing a fresh constitution but governors and mayors as well.

“This has been a very difficult decision, but we must take it. We have the full conviction that it is what’s best for the country,” the president said.

The timing of the November 21 congressional and presidential election was not changed.

Nearly 80 percent of voters in an October 25 plebiscite supported seating an assembly to rewrite the constitution inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet when Chile returned to democracy. At the same time, the voters excluded any Congress member from serving in the assembly.

The body will reserve 17 seats for Indigenous delegates and the United Nations says it will be the first time a constitution is drafted by an assembly equally divided between men and women.

Health experts had recommended suspending the planned election.

Intensive care units are at 95 percent capacity, with seven of every 10 ICU beds occupied by a COVID-19 case. The Ministry of Health reported on Sunday more than 7,300 new coronavirus cases, the fourth-consecutive day exceeding 7,000 cases.

Chile entered a strict and extensive coronavirus lockdown on Saturday, as the country recorded its second-highest number of daily infections. Sixteen million people in the country of 19 million are now under mandatory isolation.

Police said that in the past day, more than 1,300 people were arrested for violating the lockdown. Chile has administered the highest number of vaccine doses in Latin America, reaching close to 40 percent of its population.

However, authorities have said the tough restrictions are necessary to free up beds in hospitals.

Source: News Agencies