Chile’s centre-right ruling coalition suffered a shock loss on Sunday night after failing to secure a critical one-third of seats in the body that will draft the country’s new constitution.
With 90 percent of the votes counted, candidates backed by President Sebastian Pinera’s Chile Vamos coalition had won only a fifth while independents had picked up the most. New proposals will require two-thirds approval and without a third of the delegates, the government will struggle to block radical changes to the constitution unless it can forge new alliances.
The result – and defeats for Chile Vamos candidates in mayoral, governatorial and municipal elections held at the same time – bode ill for the ruling coalition ahead of general and presidential elections in November.
The vote to pick 155 citizens to rewrite the constitution was borne from fierce protests that erupted over inequality and elitism in October 2019. The current constitution drafted during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet is widely perceived to favour big business over the rights of ordinary citizens and does not even mention indigenous people.
CNN’s local channel in Chile projected independents would win 45 seats, Chile Vamos would gain 39, the centre-left 25, the far-left 28 and a small coalition would take one seat. Seventeen seats have been reserved for the country’s indigenous communities.
Pinera said his government and other traditional political parties should heed the “loud and clear” message that they had not adequately responded to the needs of citizens.
It was “a great opportunity” for Chileans to build a more “fair, inclusive, prosperous and sustainable country,” he added.
Pinera’s coalition had sought at least a third of seats as any proposal for the new constitution needs at least two-thirds approval.
Marcela Cubillos, a senior figure in the Chile Vamos coalition, said the results made clear the right would need to forge new alliances.
“The results that we are seeing today make the construction of these agreements essential,” she told reporters.
Gabriel Boric, a leading member of Chile’s far-left Broad Front coalition, said the vote heralded big changes for the economy of the world’s largest copper producer.
“We are looking for a new treaty for our Indigenous populations, to recover our natural resources, build a state that guarantees universal social rights,” he said. “The right doesn’t have its third – we’re going to start from scratch and build a new Chile.”
Changing the constitution was a central demand to emerge from fierce social protests that erupted over inequality and elitism in October 2019.
Since then, the government’s popularity has fallen even further amid COVID-related poverty and joblessness and due to its attempts to block citizens from drawing from their privately-held pensions.