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Chile to vote again on replacing its constitution

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

On Sunday, Chile makes a second attempt to cast a ballot either in favor or against a new constitutional proposal. That proposal would replace the text designed and ratified during General Augusto Pinochet's bloody dictatorship. If this proposal is as roundly rejected as the last, this could be Chile's last chance at constitutional reform in a while, as John Bartlett reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

JOHN BARTLETT, BYLINE: Chile finds itself at a constitutional crossroads. On the eve of a second plebiscite, the Coordinadora Feminista 8m, a feminist group in Santiago, are out campaigning against the new constitutional draft. They say it threatens women's rights.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

BARTLETT: A first attempt to pass a more progressive proposal, which included a host of rights and guarantees, was decisively shot down in September last year when 62% of voters opted against it. Most polls suggest that this proposal will be rejected, too.

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BARTLETT: The desire to replace the constitution surged from mass anti-inequality protests which shook Chile to the core in 2019. Politicians quickly signed an agreement to work towards replacing the 1980 Pinochet-era constitution, which many protesters blamed for the gulf between social and economic classes.

Chile's leftist president, Gabriel Boric, backed the first progressive attempt at reform but has not been drawn into commenting on this latest draft.

I've come to Plaza de la Constitution, or Constitution Square, here in the center of Chile's capital, Santiago, a wide-open space out the back of La Moneda, the presidential palace. People are sheltering from the heat in what little shade there is around the fringes of the square. And in the center, there's a tiny hut where people are handing out free copies of the text for this new proposed constitution.

SOCAIRE SANCHEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: Twenty-four-year-old librarian Socaire Sanchez says she is voting against the proposal because it is poorly designed once again and doesn't offer a future for the country.

LUIS SILVA: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: Luis Silva sat in the Constitutional Council as a member of the far-right Republican Party.

SILVA: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: He says that the proposal is balanced between four axes - women and men, civil society and experts, left and right, and tradition and innovation. However, others are warning that the proposal is ultraconservative and does not represent Chilean society as a whole. There are fears that it does not go far enough to protect women, the environment or social welfare, and it contains some rhetoric more familiar to, and often borrowed from, U.S. conservatives, such as freedom to homeschool, an issue without precedent or widespread support in Chile.

ANTONIA RIVAS: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: Across town, I met with Antonia Rivas, who is now leading the against campaign. She told me, this is a proposal that in the best of cases establishes what we already have in our current legislation and in most cases means a step backwards. But back in Constitution Square, there are many who say they are just keen to see the issue put to bed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTLETT: My whole family is going to vote in favor of this Constitution, one woman tells us as she rushes through the square to work. Reluctant to share her name, she says she simply wants the country to move beyond the constitutional question. And she's not alone. Exhaustion with the process and a desire to move on from this constitutional saga may ultimately decide Chile's fate on Sunday. Politicians may then have to find a new way to satisfy people's demands.

For NPR News, I'm John Bartlett in Santiago, Chile. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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John Bartlett