Protest-hit Chile ponders rewriting Pinochet’s constitution

The campaign for next month’s referendum on changing the constitution of the Chilean dictatorship era began on Wednesday, more than four months after the unrest that started the election began.

More than 14 million Chileans will be able to vote on April 26 on the modification of a charter established in 1980, under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).

It has already been amended by referendum, following a vote in 1988 which paved the way for a return to democracy.

“So many tears and so much blood have flowed so that we can have a different constitution,” Camilo Sanchez, president of the Young Communists, told AFP.

Demonstrations that killed more than 30 people erupted for the first time on October 18 last year, initially against a modest rise in metro fares in the capital Santiago.

But this quickly spread to a wider anger against social injustice.

One of the main demands of the protesters – alongside cheaper education and health care – was to change the constitution.

A month later, right-wing President Sebastian Pinera and his government coalition agreed to hold the historic referendum.

“The government is determined to encourage Chileans to participate and to ensure a fair, democratic and transparent vote,” Pinera said Monday following clashes between protesters and security forces this weekend in the seaside resort of Vina del Mar .

The campaign will end three days before the referendum.

Voters who choose to amend the constitution will be asked if the recast should be done by people specifically elected to the position, perhaps through the formation of a new constituent assembly.

The government favors a committee, half of which would be made up of existing legislators while directly elected members would form the other half.

The Chileans will vote for the group in October. Members would then have nine months to develop a new constitution, which could be extended by three months.

According to the latest Activa Research poll, 69% of Chileans were in favor of a change with only 14.5% against.