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Chile puts off vote on constitutional convention

Santiago, March 20 (IANS) Fifteen political parties have agreed that in view of the coronavirus crisis, a referendum on whether Chile should draft a new constitution will be postponed from April 26 to October 25.

“I appreciate this effort. It’s difficult in politics to reach accords about an issue as complex as redefining the electoral calendar,” Efe news quoted Senate leader Adriana Munoz as saying on Thursday.

‘The rare instance of consensus comes after the Chilean government declared a state of emergency in response to the pandemic and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 103 in 24 hours to 342, with no deaths so far.

While authorities have not ordered people to remain at home, shopping malls and stores selling non-essential goods are shuttered and classes at schools and universities have been suspended since Monday.

“It represents a much broader accord than that of last November (when all of the major parties except the Communists agreed to hold the referendum),” Munoz said after more than three hours of talks.

Besides delaying the plebiscite, the pact calls for municipal elections now set for October 25 to be delayed until April 4, 2021, which would also be the date for electing delegates to a hypothetical constitutional convention.

In the referendum, voters will be asked to decide whether Chile needs a new constitution and, if the answer is “yes”, should the document be drafted by Congress or by a constituent assembly elected solely for that purpose.

Holding the plebiscite was the centrepiece of the political class’ effort to defuse the unrest that began in October with protests against an increase in subway fares in Santiago and quickly grew into a national uprising over the extreme economic inequality prevailing in Chile.

More than 30 people have died in the course of protests, many at the hands of the police, who have been denounced by domestic and international organizations for torturing, sexually assaulting and maiming demonstrators.

All the polls indicate that Chileans will vote overwhelmingly in favour of getting rid of the current constitution, which was enacted in 1980 during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

–IANS

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