Chileans, offered left-right turns with constitution, choose neither

By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda, Lucinda Elliott and Alexander Villegas

SANTIAGO (Reuters) -Chile’s two failed attempts at rewriting a constitution have signaled a desire for moderation among voters, who once again rejected a proposal drafted by right-wing legislators on Sunday considered too extreme, according to analysts and voters.

“Neither of the two political sides showed the unity needed to move the country forward,” said Rodrigo Oyarzun, a 41-year-old social worker after voting in Sunday’s referendum in the coastal city of Valparaiso.

“That’s how we get nowhere.”

A new constitution was a key government promise that helped end widespread fiery protests against inequality in 2019, but the process has since stalled. The first attempt was voted down in a September 2022 referendum, and a second on Sunday as voter apathy towards a rewrite grows.

Polls show Chileans are more concerned about security and a struggling economy rather than drafting a new constitution. Sunday’s vote was also seen as a bellwether for the country’s right-wing ahead of the 2025 election, but now texts from both political aisles have been widely rejected, leaving the outcome of the race uncertain.

The first proposed text was drafted by leftist legislators and focused on social, gender, Indigenous and environmental rights while the second reinforced the country’s free-market policies and emphasized property and religious rights, while potentially restricting access to abortion.

The second rewrite was dominated by the right-wing Republican party, led by Jose Antonio Kast, who lost against leftist President Gabriel Boric during the last election.

“Most Chileans prefer a modernized charter that tilts sharply neither to the ideological left nor the right, but which actually addresses the public-policy issues that are not getting resolved,” said Arturo Porzecanski, a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson International Center, a Washington-based think tank, adding that there’s “generalized exhaustion” with the process.

President Boric said his government would now attempt to push through tax and pension reform through the legislature and hoped to do so with consensus.


Chile’s move towards moderation comes in stark contrast to increased polarization seen in many of its neighbors, including Argentina, which last month voted in radical right-wing outsider Javier Milei as president. He has promised to upend the country’s economic system after years of decline.

Claudia Heiss, a researcher and political scientist at the University of Chile, said Chile’s result could stop the country’s right-wing from pulling further right.

“(The Republican right) is damaged, without a doubt,” said Heiss, adding that its less clear who benefits, since distrust for the government is high and centrist parties haven’t fared well either.

“Center parties should be booming but they’re not, the center is weaker than ever,” Heiss said, adding that the vote also reflects a rejection of the political class in general.

“And that’s worrying because it’s not just a moderate vote, but a vote against everything.”

While Boric said his government wouldn’t pursue a third rewrite, both Heiss and Porzecanski say the constitutional debate is not over.

The current constitution, enacted during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship has gone through several reforms, but it remains a key point of tension for many voters.

Law student Nelson Palma said he hoped another attempt would “emerge” through mass mobilization, “that will really satisfy the people’s needs.” 

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos and Lucinda Elliott; writing by Alexander Villegas; editing by Aurora Ellis)