Chile's president changes ministers after referendum rout

·3-min read

Chile's leftist President Gabriel Boric reshuffled his cabinet Tuesday in response to voters resoundingly rejecting a draft text backed by him to replace the country's dictatorship-era constitution.

Two days after the draft was voted down in a referendum, Boric changed his ministers of the interior, health, science, energy and the presidency, opting for individuals closer to the center of the political left.

The new Interior Minister Carolina Toha, and minister of the presidency Ana Lya Uriarte both occupied top positions under former center-left president Michelle Bachelet.

On Sunday, a first draft of a new constitution was rejected by nearly 62 percent of voters in a mandatory referendum that analysts say was also a report card on Boric's performance since taking office in March with promises of installing a "welfare state."

He described the rejection Tuesday as perhaps "one of the most difficult moments politically that I have had to accept."

The president, painted by his detractors as a "communist," has said he would press ahead with efforts to replace the constitution, which dates from the time of military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The cabinet reshuffle, he added, was intended to give "greater cohesion" to the government.

Sunday's "No" vote -- by a far larger margin than projected by pollsters -- was the latest in a wave of recent political and social showdowns in the country.

It started with protests in 2019 for a fairer, more equal society, which led to a referendum in 2020 in which 80 percent voted for replacing the constitution.

Voters elected a left-leaning convention last year to do the drafting work, and in December, Boric took office after beating a right-wing rival by campaigning against Chile's neoliberal economic model -- protected by the existing constitution.

The Pinochet-era constitution is widely blamed for making companies and the elite richer at the expense of the poor, working classes.

Among the proposals that proved most controversial, the replacement text would have entrenched the right to elective abortion and guaranteed stronger protections for Indigenous rights.

And while most Chileans have said they want a new constitution, this version proved too radical for a majority.

When he took office six months ago, Boric appointed a cabinet noteworthy for having an average age of 42 and being composed of 14 women and 10 men.

With Tuesday's changes, the number of woman ministers rose to 15.

Among the ministers replaced were Izkia Siches (interior), Boric's close ally Giorgio Jackson (presidency) and Begona Yarza at health -- who have all come in for criticism for their handling of the government agenda.

Boric's announcement came as hundreds of students protesting for more educational resources clashed with police outside the government palace.

"And it will fall... and it will fall, the Constitution of Pinochet," changed the students, unhappy with the rejection of the draft text that would have guaranteed "universal access to education."

Police used tear gas and water canon to disperse the protesters.

Boric is holding talks with political leaders on how to revive the constitution rewriting process.

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