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Chile's Bachelet Proposes New Constitution in Last Days in Office

FILE - Chile's President Michelle Bachelet delivers the last speech of her presidential mandate to the nation at the national congress building ahead of the next presidential election, in Valparaiso, June 1, 2017.

Chile's outgoing President Michelle Bachelet said on Monday that she would send Congress legislation to replace the country's dictator-era constitution with one to guarantee equal pay for men and women and the right to strike for workers.

While Bachelet will not likely be able to push the proposal through Congress before her term ends on Sunday, it could force incoming president Sebastian Pinera to reckon with a longstanding aspiration of the leftist and centrist lawmakers with whom he will have to govern.

Pinera, a conservative billionaire and former president elected to a new term in December, has said he was open to "perfecting" the constitution if a climate of political unity prevailed.

FILE - Sebastian Pinera addresses supporters at his closing campaign rally in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 16, 2017.
FILE - Sebastian Pinera addresses supporters at his closing campaign rally in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 16, 2017.

Chile's constitution dates from the 1973-1990 right-wing military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Although significant changes have been made since the return to democracy, Bachelet and others have argued that it must be redesigned from scratch.

Bachelet said her proposal would allow Chileans to challenge in court any violation of their new constitutional rights, from free education to the representation of indigenous people in Congress.

"This bill establishes the inviolability of human dignity and the respect and protection of human rights, correcting a tremendous omission of the current text," Bachelet said in a televised address to the nation.

Calling the current constitution "illegitimate in its origin," Bachelet said she started a campaign three years ago so Chileans could weigh in on what they wanted in a new one.

The proposed constitution would eliminate the supermajority needed to pass some laws and create a better balance between the executive and legislative branches, Bachelet said.