Chile President Sebastian Pinera on Monday introduced a law that will allow the South American country to hold a referendum on April 26 to change its military dictatorship-era constitution.
Changing the constitution enacted under former dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973-90, was one of the main demands made of Pinera as he bids to end two months of protests against his government and inequality.
Last week, the bill was approved by Congress, Pinera said while signing into law,”This reform opens the doors and defines a path to achieve a great constitutional agreement”.
They will be asked two questions on April 26, do they want a new constitution and who should draft it.
The second question refers to whether or not those tasked with the redrafting should be specifically elected by the public to do so, for example in the formation of a new constitution assembly.
The decision to hold a referendum to change the constitution was reached following an agreement last month between the government and left-wing opposition parties and came just two days after particularly violent protests.
Pinera signed the enactment at the presidential palace in the company of socialist former president Ricardo Lagos, who 15 years ago introduced a number of significant constitutional reforms.
“This referendum, the first in 30 years, should serve us in leaving behind the violence and divisions that we’ve painfully and sadly seen resurging these last few days,” Pinera added.
Earlier in the month, thousands of demonstrators gathered onto the street of capital Santiago to pressurize President Pinera into taking “serious steps” to reduce inequality in the country battling a social upheaval for the last 50 days.
Pinera had submitted a proposal to offer aid to poor households.
The violent protests that started in mid-October prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and the deployment of soldiers in the provinces of Santiago and Chacabuco, as well as in the Metropolitan municipalities of Puente Alto and San Bernardo.
Clashes broke out between the protesters and the police in several parts of the city throughout the day and the subway was shut after attacks on several stations.
The crisis is the worst in three decades of Chilean democracy and has led to around 2,000 injuries, including some 280 people who suffered eye damage from shotgun pellets.
Although Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, there is widespread frustration at privatized health care and education, rising costs of basic services and falling pensions.
(With inputs from agency)