Is the third time the charm? Maybe yes maybe no. In the third attempt in less than a decade to amend the 1980 Constitution, the electorate in Chile has supported a new force, the Republican Party, identified with the military regime, and which, paradoxically, does not believe that Chile needs a new magna carta.
In the elections this Sunday, May 7, 35% of voters supported candidates from this party’s list, the highest support received by any Chilean party in 30 years. This allowed him to choose 22 of the 50 members of the Constitutional Council who will write a new fundamental charter for Chile.
This gives the Republican Party veto power for any text or article of this new letter. Added to the 11 advisers on the Cile Seguro list, the right now has the three-fifths majority needed to approve a new constitutional text, without even having to consult the rest of the advisers of other parties, including those of President Gabriel Boric’s governing alliance.
In theory, this council could do so make only a few cosmetic changes to the current Constitution and present it to the electorate as it is in the new “exit plebiscite” of December 17, 2023.
In three years, Chile has gone from a vote in which 80% of the electorate declared themselves in favor of a new constitution, to one in which the most voted party is the one whose leaders have said they they do not believe that the country needs another fundamental text.
The truth is that in politics the law of the pendulum applies. Thus, after a strong left lean from the social outburst of October 2019, the subsequent decision to amend the Constitution, the election of a Constituent Assembly and the election of Gabriel Boric as president in December 2021, Chile seemed destined for great changes.
However, that opportunity was squandered. The overwhelming majority of leftist independents in the Constitutional Assembly “got over the steamroller”, refused to engage with right and centre, and they produced a text “at their pint”, but very far from the sentiment of the majority of Chileans. As expected, 62% of voters rejected it in the plebiscite of September 4, 2022, a severe blow to the Boric government.
Going back to zero pages, the government and the National Congress embarked on another process of constitutional reform, with all kinds of precautions to avoid another debacle. A Constitutional Council with 50 instead of 155 members; a Committee of Experts to provide an initial text; a Technical Admissibility Committee to arbitrate disputes; and a list of 12 “borders” that the new text should respect.
Despite these “padlocks”, the reality is that every plebiscite concerns the government of the moment. And that’s where a “must have” government like Boric’s suffered a second major defeat in less than a year. It, because it cost him a lot to govern.
From said to fact
Deteriorating citizen security, increased drug trafficking and uncontrolled immigration at the northern border took their toll. A hard core of student leaders, masters of winning elections, who in ten years have moved from the leadership of the Federation of Students of Chile (FECH) to the Palacio de La Moneda, seamlessly, suddenly defeat after defeat at the polls.
It is no longer about speaking, but about governing, e the government’s ambitious program is at a standstill.
The big question that leaves Chile this Sunday is whether the Republican Party, faithful to its ideology, will risk keeping the guiding principles of Pinochet’s Constitution intact (running the risk of a second rejection in the December plebiscite), or if you are going to pave a reasonable text, the “house for all” that Chileans want. In this the bets are off.
Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.