People celebrate early results of a vote approving a new constitution Sunday night in Santiago, Chile. The results set off joyous celebrations across the country. Photo by Alberto Valdes/EPA-EFE
Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Chilean voters have overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative calling for the rewriting of the country's constitution, election officials said Monday.
Chileans took to the streets in celebration late Sunday when exit polls showed the measure was likely to prevail. The plebiscite calls for scrapping the current constitution imposed 40 years ago under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and setting up a process for drafting a new one.
With 99.8% of the polls reporting on Monday morning, the final vote was tabulated at 78% to approve the measure and 22% to reject it, according to Chilean Electoral Service Chairman Patricio Santamaria.
Turnout was around 7.5 million -- higher than for the landmark 1988 plebiscite, which brought an end to military rule in the country.
"We're looking at the largest vote in the history of Chile in terms of the absolute number of votes cast," Santamaria said, crediting the use of new technology to ensure the secrecy of the ballot for convincing many first-time voters to appear at the polls.
The enthusiastic voter response came after turbulent protests and mass demonstrations last year calling for structural change.
Conservative politicians warned that Sunday's vote would be marred by violence, but only scattered incidents were reported as thousands of Chileans rejoiced Sunday night at Santiago's Plaza Italia.
Reforming the charter was a key demand of the protesters. Chile's government under center-right President Sebastian Pinera agreed under pressure in November to revise the constitution with a "constituent congress."
The current constitution, which advocates minimal state intervention and allows private sectors to control public services, was blamed for problems that have arisen from privatizing pensions and challenges to healthcare and education.
The next step is another election in April 2021 to select 155 representatives to a "constituent congress," where the new constitution will be drawn up.