Early results suggest rejection of Chile's new constitution in referendum

·3 min read

(Corrects percentage of supporters in first paragraph)

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Voters rejecting Chile's proposed new constitution in a referendum outnumbered supporters 62.20% versus 37.80%, according to early results on Sunday, with 72.19% of ballot boxes tallied.

The new constitution, focused on social rights, the environment, gender parity and indigenous rights, would replace the current market-friendly text dating back to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. The new text stemmed from an agreement between lawmakers and protesters to quell violent protests against inequality in 2019.

While nearly 80% of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution in late 2020, polls show public support has dropped with worries about certain proposals and controversies involving the constituents elected to draft it.

More than 15 million Chileans and residents were eligible to vote across more than 3,000 voting centers. These included the national stadium in Santiago, where Rosemarie Williamson, 54, and her mother, 85, voted to reject the new constitution.

Williamson, who had voted 'yes' in 2020, cited worries over several proposals.

"The main one is (indigenous) plurinationality and then pension funds," she said. "I've worked my whole life and I'm not willing to share that."

Voting centers around the country reported long lines and high turnout as Chileans took part in the mandatory vote, which experts say adds uncertainty to polls, which have consistently showed a greater chance of rejection than support.

Diego Uribe, 35, a father of two who does not normally vote because he has lost faith in political parties, voted 'yes' in Puente Alto, a lower-income region in southern Santiago.

"This one is different," Uribe said, noting he would have voted even if it was not mandatory. "Approval is real change for the future, free education, dignified healthcare and more rights."

BORIC PLEDGES UNITY

President Gabriel Boric's office confirmed to Reuters that he had called a meeting with political parties on Monday. Boric vowed to govern with unity after he voted in the southern city of Punta Arenas early on Sunday.

"In the difficult times we had as a country we took the path of resolving our differences and moving forward with more democracy," Boric told reporters after voting.

No matter the outcome, he said, the government will work with all sectors to "advance in justice, equality, growth and development for everyone."

Some polls from outside the country, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea and China, have already closed and show a favorable lead for the new text. Votes from Chileans living overseas historically skew more progressive than the rest of the electorate.

Voters planning to vote 'no' first outnumbered the 'yes' vote in April and kept a varying lead. The latest polls before a two-week blackout showed rejectors ahead at 47%, compared with 38% for 'yes' and 17% undecided.

The ruling coalition had already agreed to modify the text if approved. Fifty-seven transitory norms will help guide the transition from one constitution to the next.

If the text is rejected, Boric has said, the process should restart to fulfill the mandate given by the 2020 vote to draft a new constitution. Other political figures have said the current constitution should be amended since lawmakers recently reduced quorums needed to make changes.

(Reporting by Alexander Villegas, Natlia Ramos and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Deepa Babington, Andrea Ricci and Richard Chang)