Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera hailed the results of a national referendum held to scrap a dictatorship-era constitution as a “triumph” for democracy.
Preliminary results late Sunday showed Chileans overwhelmingly backed drafting a new constitution. With nearly 87% of votes counted, more than 78% voted in favor of the measure, according to the country’s electoral service.
A new governing charter was a central demand of energetic anti-government demonstrations over economic inequality that erupted last year.
“This triumph of democracy should fill us with joy and hope,” Piñera said Sunday night. “Up until now, the constitution has divided us. From now onward, we should all collaborate so that the new constitution is a great mark of unity, of stability, and the future.”
Next April, Chileans will vote on a constitutional assembly to draft the document.
The current four-decade-old constitution was drafted during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Its opponents say the document lacks legitimacy and harkens back to a dark and violent period in Chilean history.
Opponents say that more than 3,000 people died as a consequence of political violence under Pinochet’s rule. He died at age 91 in 2006, not having been convicted of any crimes.
Large crowds gathered in Santiago’s Plaza Italia on Sunday evening to celebrate the referendum result with banners like “Adiós, General,” images from CNN affiliate CNN Chile showed.
Dubbed “one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies” by the World Bank, Chile has been mired in deep-seated anger over government policies seen as favoring the rich. The OECD reported in 2018 that the income inequality gap was more than 65% wider than the organization’s average.
Protests erupted in October last year as Chileans demonstrated over economic inequalities, living costs and rising debt in a country.
Rioting and looting resulted in billions of dollars in damage and losses to the country’s businesses and infrastructure. The unrest saw the military take to the streets for the first time since the rule of Pinochet.
CNN’s Rafael Romo contributed to this report