Water as a public good, a parity democracy, the recognition of the rights of the 13% of Chileans who recognize themselves as indigenous, environmentalism as a political priority, the recovery of public services… The new Chilean Constitution that is voted on this Sunday in a referendum proposes a new social contract for a country that has experienced a vertiginous political process since the social outbreak at the end of 2019. The consensus that emerged from that popular roar has been cracking over time. Misinformation and hoaxes about the scope of the law promoted by right-wing sectors have generated a climate contrary to the approval of the text.
The polls give an advantage of “rejection” of about ten points over “approve”. Despite this, the progressive government of Gabriel Boricborn from that spirit of constitutional change, still trusts in a triumph of “approval” that will definitively bury the current Magna Charge, drafted in times of the Pinochet dictatorship, and begin to leave behind 30 years of inequalities in Chile.
To try to counteract the disadvantage in the polls, the Boric government proposed two weeks ago to make some modifications to the constitutional text if it goes ahead at the polls. The document, agreed upon with the parties and social organizations that support the Government, corrects and clarifies some crucial aspects of the law, such as that relating to multinationality, on which a good part of the “rejection” campaign has revolved. Although the Constitution makes it clear that Chile is an indivisible State in which different nations (up to eleven native peoples) cohabit, for the right-wing opposition that definition breaks the country. The Government has come out against misinformation and has specified that the territorial autonomies will respect “the principles of unity and indivisibility of the State of Chile and the freedoms recognized and protected for all people.”
Another of the questions from the supporters of the “rejection” refers to the changes in matters of justice established by the new Constitution. Regarding the controversy over the recognition of the indigenous justicethe agreement of the leftist parties clarifies: “There will be no parallel justice regimes that call into question the unity, coherence and consistency of the judiciary. Indigenous justice will only be applied to members of the same people, it will be voluntary and it will not have jurisdiction over criminal offenses. Indigenous justice, as stated in the new Constitution, will always be subordinate to ordinary justice, in particular, to the Supreme Court.”
Boric, who has barely been in power for six months, has also promised to include reforms to the constitutional text in matters as sensitive as the pension system (a mixed model and the continuity of private capitalization are ensured), the Health (the provision of private services will not be limited) or the education (with a mixed model). Although the young progressive leader plans to launch his own reform program (he has just announced a project to reduce the working day from 45 to 40 hours per week), a defeat of the “approval” in the referendum would be his first major political setback. The Chilean president was forged as a leader in the student demonstrations of 2011 and although his passage through Congress with the Broad Front tempered his revolutionary impetus, he retains that halo of nonconformism that only those who have grown politically with the encouragement of the street.
The political sectors that have campaigned against the new Magna Carta (the right-wing parties grouped in chili let’s go, mainly) advocate drafting a new Constitution that gathers a broader consensus among citizens, according to a document presented in July. But the left does not trust the promises of change from a right that has blocked over and over again any hint of social transformation during the last three decades.
The constitutional text, of 388 articles, has been prepared at full speed and in an atmosphere of social tension due to media pressure exerted on some members of the Constitutional Convention. Looking back, it all started at the end of October 2019 with the massive protests over the rise in public transport and the disproportionate and violent response of the right-wing government Sebastian Pinera. Right off the bat, not the 30-peso increase in transportation was contested, but the 30 years of social inequality. From there came a pact signed in extremis at the end of that year with the support of almost all the political forces and the objections of a sector of the left (Boric aligned himself with the former). Almost 80% of Chileans voted a year later to have a constituent assembly.
Among the 155 members of that convention also elected at the polls were a large number of activists, independent professionals and a representation of the original towns. Half of the assembly was made up of women, an unprecedented event in the world. The press was immediately primed against certain constituents with inappropriate behavior, such as that of Rodrigo Rojas, who alleged a supposed cancer that he did not suffer from and had to resign. Or that of the constituent who voted loudly on one occasion while he was taking a shower. Some believed that assemblyism had come to stay in a Chile that, however, had seen Piñera win only four years earlier. The growing social rejection of the Constitution has had a lot to do with the amplification of these behaviors and, only in the final stretch of the process, with the content of the norm.
The Constitution being voted on this Sunday in Chile is one of the most advanced in the world in social matters and, without a doubt, the most feminist by claiming a parity democracy. The norm declares a social State of decentralized law (the Senate is eliminated and a Chamber of the Regions is created) and open to procedures of direct democracy unknown in Chile until now. A State dedicated to the preservation of Nature and the de-privatization of resources as fundamental as water. A State that recognizes plurinationality in order to achieve, among other goals, a political solution to the conflict in the Araucanía region, the Mapuche territory in a continuous state of confrontation.
The latest published polls predict a victory for the “rejection” by a margin that moves between nine and 16 points. The compulsory vote in the referendum (unlike other elections) it could alter the estimates and benefit the supporters of “approval” if they manage to mobilize the usual abstainers, among them the youngest. If the “approval” wins, a period of political negotiation will open which, with all certainty, will introduce changes to the Constitution to achieve greater social consensus. The triumph of the “rejection” would falsely close the cycle of citizen demands opened in October 2019 and would leave the first left-wing government in Chile touched since the experience of democratic socialism in Allende in the early 1970s, cut short by the bloody coup of Augusto Pinochetwhose Constitution would remain in force.