Chile’s constitutional efforts look doomed, again
Chile is in the tortuous process of drafting a new constitution to replace one drafted by its former military dictator. A new draft reads like a partisan wishlist – just like the left-leaning document voters rejected last year – but this time the far-right holds the pen.
On Wednesday, the body attempting to hammer out a new constitution for Chile submitted its official proposals, which will now be reviewed by an expert panel. The draft limits the rights of workers to strike, guarantees to swiftly expel undocumented migrants, curbs abortion rights, and includes provisions supporting private pensions, schools, and healthcare systems.
It’s far from the moderate document Chilean President Gabriel Boric hoped would emerge from this second bite at the chirimoya.
Some background: In 2019, famously stable Chile was rocked by a series of protests known as the estallido social (roughly, “social outburst”), of which a key demand was a new constitution to replace the one authored by the military junta of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1980.
In 2020, Boric — then just a lower-house member — played a key role in organizing the plebiscite in which an astounding 80% of Chileans voted in favor of writing a new constitution. It catapulted him to national fame, and in March 2022, the presidency.
But the first constitutional convention became bogged down in ideology, producing an ambitious and left-leaning draft that spooked middle-class Chileans. Voters roundly rejected it last September, but Boric didn’t feel he could just let the matter die. He attempted to continue the overhaul, but with a process supervised by Congressionally appointed experts to tamp down ideology.
It didn’t work. Boric’s left-leaning coalition took just 17 of the 51 seats in the constitutional assembly after May 2023 elections. Concerned by rising crime and a sluggish economy, voters elected the far-right Republicans to 22 seats, and they easily dominated the assembly in a supermajoritarian coalition alongside conventional right-wing parties.
But Chileans don’t appear happy with the prospect of a right-wing constitution either. Just 24% of voters plan to vote for the draft constitution so far.
The constitutional assembly will have a final chance to make changes after receiving expert comments, opening a slim chance for moderation before the plebiscite in December. Should Chileans reject this draft, they’ll be stuck with the Pinochet version, as Boric has made clear he’s now done with constitutional conventions.The constitutional reform process has dominated political discourse for four years, while ordinary Chileans dealt with COVID-19, economic instability, and spiking crime and violence. Who will be satisfied if it all comes to naught?