Chile is heading to the polls this weekend in a mega-election which is likely to reshape the country for decades to come.

Apart from choosing local council members, mayors and for the first time in history governors, for its 16 regions, Chile is also picking the 155 delegates in charge of drafting a new Constitution.

With gender parity and indigenous participation greenlighted by Congress, the mechanism was the result of a referendum held in October 2020, a year after massive protests against the neoliberal model installed by the Pinochet dictatorship (1973 – 1990) rocked the country.

In the plebiscite, Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favour of scrapping the Charter written by Jaime Guzmán, an anti-communist and far-right lawyer who won a seat in the Senate after the transition to democracy, but who was assassinated in April 1991.

The text was introduced in 1980 and even though it has been amended several times, at its core it still enshrines some of the values the Pinochet regime championed.

Pinochet waves to the crowd gathered in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace, on 11 september 1987. Marco Ugarte | Agence France-Presse

On Saturday, 3 million people voted, according to official figures released by the Electoral Service.

Experts believe turnout will increase Sunday, as many feared for the security of ballot boxes which were closed and left at schools overnight under the surveillance of the Armed Forces.

Also for the first time in history, Chile celebrated an election in two days, not only to foster voting, but also to comply with Covid rules in light of the pandemic.

The Constitutional Convention will have up to a year to deliver a proposal. Then, the Government of the day will call for a new referendum within sixty days, with compulsory voting.

If the Apruebo option wins again, the new Charter will come into force 10 days later. However, if Rechazo wins, the current Constitution would remain in place.

While the left and the center expect to gain a two-third majority, the right aims to secure a third of the seats, which are going to be critical in negotiation stages and deciding, for example, the nature of the Republic, how the State will be redefined and what to keep or get rid of from the current Constitution.

Notwithstanding, politicians from all sides of the spectrum have been under fierce scrutiny for months, with the Presidency, Congress and parties at the bottom of the polls, so the result of the mega-election is uncertain.

Moreover, hundreds of independent candidates ran campaings without the support of traditional parties, so they could ruin the wishes of the main political forces.

Former president Ricardo Lagos votes Sunday in Santiago. Pablo Rojas Madariaga | Agencia UNO