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Democracy, deception and party: a visual account of the plebiscite in Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile- In Chile, the 4th of September are marked by historic elections. In 1952, women were able to vote for the first time. In 1970, after two failed attempts, the socialist Salvador Allende, representative of the Unidad Popular, won the presidential elections. This last September 4 was also historic, although not for the same reasons.

Rejection won. He not only won, he swept away. Although the polls had already anticipated that this option would be the winner in the plebiscite on the proposed new constitution, no one anticipated such an overwhelming result. The advantage over approval, according to Servel, is 24 points.

In no region of Chile did it gain approval. Neither in the Metropolitan Region —where Santiago, the capital— is located, which tends to vote for more leftist options, nor in the Magallanes region, the land of President Gabriel Boric, who gave him victory just in December of last year. The entire country was stained by rejection.

In addition to allowing the survival of the 1980 constitution, at least until a new constituent process begins, Sunday’s plebiscite marked history for its level of participation: more than 13 million Chileans cast their vote, a record number.

These were some key moments of this day that will be recorded in the Chilean calendars.

A “festival of democracy”

By bike, by car or on foot. Chilean voters flock to the voting centers that have been installed throughout the country. At the Liceo de Aplicacion, in Santiago Centro, the lines occupy a block and more towards the afternoon, at lunchtime, they even turn around.

The heat – the thermometers reached 27 degrees in the afternoon although it is still the middle of winter in Chile – does nothing to diminish the lines of hundreds of people in the electoral centers of Santiago.

According to the Chilean Electoral Service (Servel), 13 million 21,063 Chileans turned out to vote. This is well above the 8 million voters who participated in the second round of the 2021 presidential election or the 7 million who went to the polls in the election of the members of the Constitutional Convention.

The reason? Voting in this plebiscite is mandatory. Failure to do so can result in citizens being forced to pay a fine of up to 170,000 Chilean pesos (approximately $200 or 4,000 Mexican pesos).

In Police Station 2 of the Police of Santiago, in addition to voters attending, several people arrive to ask for proof that shows that on the day of the election they were more than 200 kilometers away from their electoral domicile, the only reason that justifies their not participating. in the vote.

Although the lines seem eternal, inside the voting process is fast and orderly, according to the experience of the voters.

Outside the atmosphere of political tension that prevailed in the political discussions prior to the plebiscite, in the polling stations there is an atmosphere of tranquility and a certain joy. People came to vote with their pets or their babies.

“It’s a democracy party,” says Gonzalo, 51, who said he voted for the “I approve” option, although he was not asked about his electoral preference.

Some complaints are heard about President Gabriel Boric, who traveled to Punta Arenas, a city in the southern tip of Chile that is 3,000 kilometers away.

“They pay with our taxes for a plane so that Boric can go vote and return the same day. It’s cheeky,” says Francisco, 74, outside the Liceo de Aplicacion.

The count: the failure of approval is evident

At 6:00 p.m. Santiago time (5:00 p.m. Mexico City time), the voting centers close. Only people who are in line before that time can cast their vote.

Shortly after the departure of the last voter, the counting of votes begins at the polling stations. One by one, the ballot papers are opened and the result is recorded.

From that moment, the triumph of rejection is evident. The ballots marked with this option begin to accumulate in little mounds compared to the few votes for the “I approve” option, even at the polling stations in the Santiago commune, where it was expected that the new constitution would receive support.

In other richer districts of the Chilean capital, such as Vitacura or Las Condes, the triumph of rejection is overwhelming, with 86.4% and 78.34% of the votes, respectively. But also in Puente Alto, a popular sector in the southeast of the city, approval had little to do with those who decided to reject the constitutional text.

In less than 20 minutes, the trend becomes irreversible. The rejection of the new constitution project will be imposed in the exit plebiscite.

Plaza Dignidad, the center of post-election disappointment

Some 2,000 supporters of approval begin to gather in Plaza Dignidad —formerly Plaza Italia—. Although the polls indicate that the rejection will win the plebiscite, they still have hope for an unexpected victory.

The minutes go by and the sun begins to set in Santiago. The results arrive, but the spirits still do not drop. Isidora Varela, a photographer who covers the process, does not want to take out her cell phone. You have already seen that the results are very favorable to rejection. When you pull out your phone, someone wants to see how things are going. She doesn’t let them do it. Make sure the party doesn’t end too soon.

The results, however, are not long in coming. The party is over. Start disappointment and silence. Also in anger.

Plaza Dignidad became in October 2019 the main scene of the anti-government protests that led to the writing of the proposed constitution that has just been rejected at the polls.

“We are going to continue in the streets; this is not going to stop us, we must continue the fight,” Cecilia Álvarez, 46, told AFP. He wears a Mapuche indigenous flag around his neck, according to the same agency.

Some of them set fire and make barricades. The situation is tense. A few minutes later the Carabineros arrive to break up the demonstration with tear gas.

The party of rejection

In Providencia, as soon as the sun goes down and the triumph of rejection is a clear trend, the sound of the horns begins to enter the houses and apartments. It seems that Chile has won a soccer game, with cars with Chilean flags speeding down the avenues.

In Balmaceda Park, on Providencia Avenue, detractors of the draft constitution gather to celebrate that it was rejected. With Chilean flags —only those flags— they hug and jump. “Whoever doesn’t jump is Boric, whoever doesn’t jump is Boric!” they yell.

The defeat of the Approval is also read as a failure of the government of Gabriel Boric, the 36-year-old leftist president who took office only in March of this year.

For the first time, the opponents of the constitutional proposal took to the streets and it was to celebrate the comfortable victory obtained in the vote this Sunday.

“It has won rejection because the possible Constitution was rubbish and our country needs something good,” Betta, a 46-year-old logistics entrepreneur, told AFP.

Caravans of vehicles with Chilean flags headed to the celebration, where families, the elderly and, above all, many young people sang the national anthem over and over again in the same streets that they avoided during the two months of campaigning before this Sunday’s plebiscite.

Last Thursday, at the foot of the San Cristóbal hill in Santiago, barely 400 supporters arrived for the closing of the “Rejection” campaign.

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