In a country with a 200-year history of Constitutions written by the oligarchy, small groups of men – with the involvement of barely a couple of women – who have consistently represented their own interests to the exclusion of others, the Chilean people fought for and have won the possibility to write the future of a new Chile for generations.
Today "the bread is a little crunchier" - a Chilean expression meaning that as we wake up today, everything tastes a little better - but surely not for everyone. But everything certainly will certainly taste better today for the Chileans who have been in the streets, demanding a different Chile since the 18th of October 2019; and who this weekend, on the 15th & 16th of May 2021, refused to vote for the same old parties. And will taste worse today for the right wing that did not even reach the quorum it needed to define the what the new Constitution will look like and simultaneously lost elections in some of the most important municipalities of the country, nor for the traditional left wing that governed the country for more than 20 years since the return to democracy and that also came out weakened in this election.
It is difficult to describe - one day after these elections - how important and historic this moment is for Chile. This weekend was not only unprecedented in our lives, but unprecedented for a country that for 200 years of history has lived under Constitutions written by and for the oligarchy, small groups of men – with the involvement of barely a couple of women. Today, hope returns to the people, because after today we will write the fundamental charter that will govern the destinies of our society, and we will do so through a Constituent Assembly, more than half of which is made up of women, an assembly that includes representatives of diverse indigenous peoples and many progressive independents that do not have histories with the traditional political parties.
However, this moment was not handed to us. It was won in the streets and with the mobilisation of a people who demanded social rights and a dignified life that had ben taken away from them by a neoliberal capitalist model that was embodied in Pinochet's Constitution, and that today, for the first time, we have the opportunity to change. This struggle was not free either. It cost lives, eyes, human rights violations and the freedom of many who were imprisoned for protesting and demanding a different Chile. The results of this electoral process represent a country that has been changed by this pandemic.
In addition to the election of the 155 constituents, these elections were also for municipal representatives and regional governorships. The right also suffered a serious defeat here, losing the most important and largest municipalities in Chile: Santiago, Maipú, Estación Central, Ñuñoa, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, which were won by the Frente Amplio and the Communist Party. These results could indicate how the presidential elections will go at the end of the year. Even more so after the sober diagnosis offered by President Sebastián Piñera himself when he admitted that “the results were a sign that the right wing was not in tune with citizens' demands”.
Predictions about the presidential elections aside, the election of the members of the Constituent Assembly was so important because of its implications for the fate of the country: these 155 people will have the opportunity to rewrite and redefine the Chilean constitution.
The current constitution was written in 1980, under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Most of the roughly fifty changes that were made since 1980 were realized between the period of military dictatorship and the government of Ricardo Lagos (2005). When the social mobilizations that challenged Chilean democracy began in October 2019, the political class offered the alternative of a Constituent Assembly as the only way to institutionally channel the social demands.
The first concrete steps in this historic process were taken with this weekend’s elections, where the right wing’s capacity to contribute to the new Constitution and maintain the Chilean neoliberal model was severely constrained. The people have won the possibility to define a new Chile for future generations. A Chile where the great avenues open up for women and men to walk freely and build a better society.
Long live the people, long live the workers!