Constitutional Process NATIONAL

Polls Close in Chile on Elections Marked by Low Turnout

SANTIAGO – Polls have closed across Chile and the counting begins. For the second day in a row, polling stations reported a significantly low turnout. Especially in the lower income districts of the country and among the younger people, only small portions of the electorate participated in the elections.

Was it the pandemic? The abstract phenomenon of a Constitutional Convention? The overwhelming number of candidates? Political scientists might shrug when asked about the surprisingly low voter turnout on May 15 and 16. Whatever the outcome, mainly for the leftwing sectors in the country, who advocated for progress and hoped for backing of the Chilean youth that initiated the constitutional process back in October 2019, this turnout will feel like a disappointment.

Every district has its fixed number of seats for the convention, and whether five or 5,000 people vote, that won’t change. But a turnout does matter, to make the whole process of writing a Constitution more legitimate and more broadly supported by Chile’s population. The results matter. But elections are about participation, and for the first time the vote of Chileans could actually make a difference regarding the composition of the Constitutional Convention and therefore the Constitution itself. Many Chileans just didn’t seem to understand the magnitude and importance of the elections, or weren’t aware.

Chile faces a year of uncertainty. What will be the protocol for the constituents? Will the public be involved in any way? What will the Constitution finally look like? After nine months, with an additional three months if necessary, Chile will vote again in 2022 to approve this newly-drafted Constitution. A lot depends on those chosen to write the new Constitution. Whatever their proposals, they will have been elected by a small fraction of the electorate. And that might make the whole Constitutional process even more challenging.

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