HAVANA TIMES – More than 15 million Chileans are called this Sunday to the polls to approve or reject the new Constitution in an unprecedented process to replace the one written in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and which could mean the end of the neoliberal system implemented since 1980.
These are the keys to understanding a process that began almost three years ago amid a wave of protests and that has aroused the world’s interest due to its unique and revolutionary nature, and its possible influence on other countries.
– The new text is the result of the work of a democratically elected gender-parity constituent convention after the agreement signed on November 15, 2019, in Parliament between the Government of Sebastian Piñera, different opposition parties and individual deputies such as Gabriel Boric, the current president.
– The agreement, reached after a month of peaceful street demonstrations, acts of extreme violence and harsh police repression, included the holding of a plebiscite that for the first time in the history of Chile will be mandatory for all citizens of legal age, without the need for prior registration.
– On October 25, 2020, amid a pandemic, Chileans were summoned to the polls for the first time by the government of conservative President Sebastian Piñera to decide if they wanted to change the current Constitution, written in 1980 by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and partially reformed in 2005 under the social-democratic president Ricardo Lagos.
– 78% of the voters opted for yes in a consultation in which barely 50% of the population participated. It was also decided that the new text would be prepared by an “ad hoc” convention also elected at the polls.
– In May 2021, Chileans returned to the polls to elect the 155 members of the convention that had to be gender-equal and reserved 17 seats for indigenous peoples, who represent about 13% of the Chilean population.
– On July 4, 2021, the convention began work to complete the unfinished projects launched by the Government of Lagos and carry out a wish that President Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018) had also promoted.
– The Constituent Assembly met for a nine-month period, extended to a year, to present a draft constitution, despite the controversies, noise and criticism from the right, which barely achieved representation among the constituents.
– On July 4, 2022, the draft was delivered to the President Boric, who immediately called the plebiscite to approve or reject the text.
An ecological, social, and feminist State
– The draft up for vote on September 4th buries the neoliberal system that has ruled in Chile since the dictatorship and advances towards a social state of law with a greater presence of the citizenry.
– It is considered the most feminist Constitution in the world and declares the “ecological State” as a mainstay, with a firm commitment to defending the environment and the vocation to fight against the climate crisis.
– Likewise, it advances towards a universal primary health system, a strengthening of public education and a public pension system.
– It advocates ending the privatization of essential resources such as water and facilitating access to housing and other achievements of equal rights and social justice.
– It includes the definition of Chile as a plurinational state, recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and indigenous justice, which are some of the points that arouse the most opposition from supporters of the reject option.
– It changes the presidential responsibilities, eliminates the Senate and proposes the creation of a Chamber of the regions in search of decentralization.
– The text up for consultation has 388 articles and 57 transitory norms, which will be —if approved— one of the largest constitutions in the world.
Uncertainty about the result
– The polls conducted two weeks ago, before the ban on publishing polls, pointed to a victory for the “reject” option with a range of between six and ten points.
– Experts warn, however, that the result is uncertain since there are no precedents for a similar vote in Chile in recent times.
– For the first time, voting is compulsory without the need to register, a condition that will cause a large number of voters to go to the polls for the first time, either because they have just reached voting age, or because they did not usually do so in presidential and legislative elections, or because they want to avoid fines.
– In the plebiscite, about half a million foreign citizens residing in Chile will also participate, whose tendency is also unknown.
– Regardless of the result, it appears there is a consensus among supporters of approval and rejection on the fact that the constitutional process in Chile will continue beyond September 4th, either to specify and develop the new Constitution or to write a new one in case the reject option wins.
– However, there is a difference in how each of the options would proceed the day after the consultation.
– On August 10, in the midst of the campaign, the parties of the government alliance (the ruling coalition) signed an agreement committing to introduce the necessary changes and to coordinate the development of the necessary laws to apply the new text.
– In the event that the reject option wins, President Boric and the parties supporting the approve option, indicate that a new constitutional convention should be elected to draft a new text to fulfill the desire expressed by the citizens at the polls. For a new convention to be elected, the rules state that 125 days must first past.
– The supporters of reject, led by the right-wing parties, prefer, however, that those drafting a new constitution be a limited commission of experts and with the participation of Congress. However, they have not pronounced deadlines or signed a document that commits them to it.
– A month before the plebiscite, Congress approved a reform that reduced the quorum necessary to modify the current Constitution to four-sevenths.