Coronavirus in Chile POLITICS

Government Debates Postponing Referendum Amid Crisis

SANTIAGO – The current administration considers whether to postpone the constitutional referendum yet again. Most experts agree that it is still too early to know what the situation will be in October. Meanwhile, the opposition criticizes the idea of a further postponement, pointing to the government’s attempt to reopen shopping malls.  

President Sebastián Piñera said in an interview with CNN Español that Chile might have to postpone the referendum a second time. It was originally scheduled for April but postponed to October because of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the president, the upcoming economic challenges will make it harder to conduct a nationwide election, especially as there are municipal elections to be held only months after the referendum.

Minister of Interior Gonzalo Blumel defended the president’s position in a recent interview with La Tercera. “Today, our priority is to fight the pandemic. When the time comes to evaluate [the referendum date], we will discuss it and see what the sanitary conditions are. Our priority is to take care of the people’s health,” Blumel said.

The minister added, “It makes sense to rethink the electoral schedule when you think about the fact that the pandemic could extend for the remainder of this year and the next.” He also suggested any further postponement could be evaluated approximately two months before the current date for the referendum.

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The Response

Members of the opposition challenged the notion that the referendum should be postponed.

For example, the president of the Cristian Democrat party, Fuad Chahín, called it paradoxical, adding, “The government has been trying to rush the opening of schools, the reopening of the malls, the return of public workers and this new normality that will begin in May. At the same time they are planning on postponing the referendum in October, I think this is trying to get ahead of the discussion.”

President of the UDI party, Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe, aligned with the administration, defended Blumel’s remarks: “the country must have the necessary conditions for a political campaign, because it is necessary for both sides to be properly displayed.” She said an answer was needed by August, when the campaigns are scheduled to start.

Piñera called for a meeting with members of Chile Vamos to make sure that the coalition has a clear idea where it stands on the possible rescheduling of the referendum.

According to the latest Cadem opinion poll, approximately 50% of Chileans think that the referendum should be postponed until the Covid-19 pandemic is over, only 35% think that it should be held in October, and 12% think that it should be canceled.

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