Chile's constitutional convention on Monday handed its proposed new constitution to President Gabriel Boric ahead of a planned September referendum on adopting the text.

The convention, made up of 154 members who are mostly political independents, spent a year creating the new document to replace the constitution adopted during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).

The impetus for rewriting the constitution came from massive social unrest that erupted in October 2019, initially against a hike in metro fares but that morphed into general anti-government protests over inequality.

"We should feel proud that during the deepest crisis... in decades that our country has lived through, we Chileans have chosen more democracy, not less," said Boric during a ceremony in Santiago.

The president and vice-president of Chile's constitutional convention Maria Elisa Quinteros (L) and Gaspar Dominguez (R), respectively, hand the final draft to President Gabriel Boric, at the National Congress in Santiago
The president and vice-president of Chile's constitutional convention Maria Elisa Quinteros (L) and Gaspar Dominguez (R), respectively, hand the final draft to President Gabriel Boric, at the National Congress in Santiago AFP / JAVIER TORRES

He immediately signed a decree calling a referendum on September 4, where voting in the deeply polarized country of 19 million people will be obligatory.

Rewriting the dictatorship-era constitution was a major demand of protesters who flooded onto the streets in 2019 and kept up weekly demonstrations for months before the coronavirus pandemic curtailed them.

"Once again, the people will have the final word on their destiny. We are beginning a new stage," said Boric.

Outside the ceremony, supporters of the constitutional change waved Chilean flags and those of the Mapuche, the country's largest Indigenous community.

"This is a long-term job, we must be patient and hopeful. The new generations will receive the fruits of today," Diana Diaz, 75, told AFP.

General view of Chile's National Congress during the presentation of the final draft of the constitutional proposal, in Santiago
General view of Chile's National Congress during the presentation of the final draft of the constitutional proposal, in Santiago AFP / JAVIER TORRES

In the first of the new constitution's 388 articles, Chile is described as "a social and democratic state of law," as well as "plurinational, intercultural and ecological."

"It recognizes the dignity, freedom, substantial equality of human beings and their indissoluble relationship with nature as intrinsic and inalienable values."

"Regardless of the referendum result, Chile has already changed," said the convention's vice president Gaspar Dominguez.

Some right-wing convention members were less enthusiastic, though, branding it a "failure" and a "missed opportunity."

But with just 37 out of 154 seats in the constitutional convention, which will now be dissolved, the political right was in a minority.

Elisa Loncon (R), representative of the Mapuche people for the Chilean Constitutional Convention, attends the presentation of the final draf at the National Congress in Santiago
Elisa Loncon (R), representative of the Mapuche people for the Chilean Constitutional Convention, attends the presentation of the final draf at the National Congress in Santiago AFP / JAVIER TORRES

If the constitution is adopted, it will make Chile one of the most progressive countries in the region.

The nationwide right to abortion -- something that has been overturned in the United States -- would become enshrined in law.

"It's a constitution from another era. I'm totally convinced that if it is approved, when we look back at this process... it will be seen with a lot more tenderness and affection than we see it now," writer and journalist Patricio Fernandez, one of the 104 independent members of the convention, told AFP.

Split equally between men and women, the constitutional convention also contained 17 seats reserved for Indigenous people, who make up around 13 percent of the population.

One of those members, Natividad Llanquileo, an activist for Chile's largest Indigenous group, the Mapuche, said the constitutional process represented "the most democratic space that we have known in the history of this country."

As well as recognizing the different peoples that make up the Chilean nation, the new constitution accords a certain amount of autonomy to Indigenous institutions, notably in matters of justice.

Several times in recent weeks, Boric has reiterated his support for the constitutional project, adding that the current document represents an "obstacle" to profound social reform.

Even so, several opinion polls suggest the new constitution may yet be rejected, with opinion polls suggesting the No camp has around 45-46 percent support.

In Monday's ceremony, Boric warned against "falsehoods, distortions or catastrophic interpretations that are alien to reality" in the lead-up to the referendum.

Claudio Fuentes, a political scientist at the Diego Portales University, told AFP that social media has been awash with "a lot of disinformation about what the constitution is, and so what is needed is an explanation of the text."

However, he predicted the campaign over the next two months will be "very polarized."

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