Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Friday announced a date of April 26, 2020, for a referendum on whether the country should draft a new constitution to replace the one imposed in 1980 by late dictator Augusto Pinochet.

During a ceremony at La Moneda  palace, while signing the decree, President Pinera said, “It is not just any election, because with this democratic and republican action we will to choose between two alternatives, both of them equally legitimate and democratic”.

Voters will be asked to decide between convening a constitutional convention to craft a new national charter and making further reforms to the existing document, Efe news reported.

In a Christmas Eve address, Pinera called for an end to more than two months of anti-government protests and greater political cooperation.

President Pinera urged unity and conciliation not just with protesters, but also among his own ruling coalition of four parties, Chile Vamos, which has been divided by differences of opinion on how to deal with the political and social unrest.

Earlier on Monday, Pinera introduced a law that will allow the South American country to hold a referendum on April 26 to change its military dictatorship-era constitution.

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.

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.

The proximate cause for Chile’s largest protests since the end of the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship was an increase in transit fares in Santiago, but the grievances quickly expanded to include low pay and pensions, student debt and poor health care, among other issues.

The movement, which brought 1.2 million people – more than 5 per cent of Chile’s population – into Santiago palace on October 25, has made adoption of a new constitution one of its signature demands.

At least 24 people have died during the course of the protests, many of them at the hands of the security forces, and hundreds more have been injured.

One plan calls for a mixed assembly comprising members of Congress and ordinary citizens, while the other mandates elections to choose delegates for the sole purpose of drafting a new constitution.

In either case, the provisional calendar envisions the creation of a new charter by the end of 2020, to be followed by another referendum on the draft document.

(With inputs from agency)