The government and Chile’s medical college (Colmed) met to discuss sanitary safety for the referendum on a new Constitution, scheduled for Oct. 25. Colmed’s chief, Izkia Siches, asked the government to ensure maximum safety for the process during the pandemic. Siches said the plebiscite is more necessary than ever to achieve real change.
Several organizations and the government met to address the sanitary situation for the plebiscite on a new Constitution planned for Oct. 25. In a statement after the meeting on Wednesday, Colmed head Izkia Siches said “it is the duty of the government and legislators to guarantee the National Electoral Service (Servel) will deliver all the necessary measures and resources, including the implementation of a remote vote, to achieve a safe electoral process.”
Siches said it is essential that voters feel safe to ensure large turnout. “The pandemic has enforced the need for a deep change in Chile,” she said. Medics have witnessed how inequalities in the health system add to the structural poverty the sanitary situation has exposed, and the institutional weaknesses to cover every social area, Siches said.
According to Siches, Colmed has sent several proposals to the government, but some have not yet been implemented. She urged politicians and legislators to refrain from using Covid-19 as a roadblock to participation in the plebiscite. “Democracy cannot succumb to this pandemic,” she said.
And José Miguel Bernucci, secretary of the Medical College told Radio Cooperativa that the date should be maintained. “Everything is being done to ensure people’s right to vote,” he said. Importantly, in April Bernucci favored postponing the plebiscite.
On Wednesday, the lower house had approved the “Safe Referendum” bill, now ready to become law. This legislation will give Servel special faculties to guarantee a safe electoral process under the current sanitary conditions. The regulator will be allowed to impose security norms for the operation of the voting locations, the maximum number of voters allowed to enter polling places, physical distancing, electoral material, and mandatory facemask use.
Servel must specify the norms before Sept. 10, and the Health Ministry must approve them. None of the new norms, however, may contradict sanitary measures already in place.
Even though the bill was approved with a 141:3 vote (two abstentions), reactions were divided. During the debate, parliamentarian Sergio Bobadilla of right-wing Independent Democratic Union party said that “if children cannot go back to school due to the insecurity caused by the pandemic, the same principle should be applied to this event.” He said “the safest referendum is the one that is not held.”
Christian Democrat Matías Walker (DC), head of the lower house constitutional commision, said that “under no circumstances” will the referendum be suspended, not even in districts under quarantine. “It is a guarantee because the right to vote is stated in the Constitution,” he told Radio Agricultura.
On Thursday, the president’s chief-of-staff Cristián Mockeberg visited the National Stadium, one of the biggest polling places in the country, for an inspection. “In no case may the sanitary authorities nor Servel suspend the upcoming referendum, not nationally, regionally nor on a district level,” he said.
María José Hepp is currently finishing her Journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica. Living- hearing- and telling stories is her passion. Main interests are international relations, culture, and human rights.