A new constitution was drafted at a convention after the widespread demonstrations that followed. With it, the nation has the potential to establish new benchmarks for the area.

Constitutional referendum in Chile: Signal impact for Latin America
[Constitutional referendum in Chile]

It was three years ago that Chile was rocked by a widespread social uprising, and on September 4th, Chileans will vote on whether or not the nation should adopt a new constitution. This event has the potential to cement the awakening that has been taking place in the Andean country. People in one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America went to the streets in the fall of 2019 to protest the political and economic elite as well as the prevailing social inequalities. These protests effectively paralyzed the country for many months. One of the most important things that the protesters wanted was a new constitution, which should take the place of the one that was written during the neoliberal period of Pinochet's dictatorship. In the end, the conservative right-wing administration that was down power at the time and was led by Sebastian Piera caved in and made it possible for the constitutional procedure to be discussed in parliament.


On October 25, 2020, around 78 percent of eligible voters participated in a referendum to design a new constitution, which was to be produced by an elected constituent assembly. The referendum was held to determine whether or not a new constitution should be drafted. In the subsequent elections to the constitutional convention, which took place in May 2021, the established and right-wing parties in particular suffered a defeat, and left-wingers, including a large number of independent candidates who were not affiliated with any party, were elected to represent their constituents at the convention. In addition, all members of the population were given an equal vote at the convention, and 17 of the total of 155 seats were reserved for representatives of the indigenous people.


On the 4th of July in 2022, the members of the Constituent Assembly ceremoniously handed over the draft of a new constitution for Chile to Gabriel Boric, the country's newly elected progressive President. The constitutional convention has been disbanded, and its members reflect on a year filled with strenuous labor but also with some unexpected developments. A poll conducted on July 17 showed that 37 percent of respondents would vote in favor of (Apruebo) the acceptance of the new constitution, while 52 percent of respondents would vote against (Rechazo) the acceptance of the new constitution in the upcoming referendum on September 4. The future of the new constitutional text, which will be voted on in another referendum on September 4, hangs in the balance.

Certain delegates to the convention have incited fear among the general public by putting up maximalist demands that are on the extreme side, such as the elimination of all forms of governmental authority. The fact that these suggestions were unable to get support from a majority of delegates at the convention and were thus excluded from the body of the constitution as a result is but a footnote; the unease continued to exist anyway. In addition to this, there is a tremendous push on the right that is solely concerned with protecting its own privileges. In addition, the phantom of a "Chilezuela" is all too glad to evoke concerns of social and economic deterioration by linking the nation with Venezuela. This is done in an attempt to draw parallels between the two countries.


The wording does not provide any explanation for the concerns that were raised. It is not particularly revolutionary either, but it does contain a number of innovations and unique features that would make it possible for the traditional Chilean development model to be significantly reshaped in the direction of greater social justice and sustainability. Those innovations and features are what make it revolutionary.


Chile would become the first nation in the world to implement a parity democracy if the proposed constitution were to be approved, so laying the groundwork for the achievement of meaningful gender equality. To be more specific, all positions of population representation at the national, regional, and municipal levels, as well as in autonomous institutions and public corporations, would therefore be required to have an equal number of women and men filling such positions. The goal of achieving gender equality is reflected in the text in a number of different ways, including the inclusion of the right to care, the right to a life free from gender-based violence, the inclusion of the gender perspective in the judicial system, and the inclusion of the gender perspective in tax and levy policy.

In the last several decades, Chilean feminist groups and social movements have effectively prepared the way for a process that has resulted in the successful anchoring of parity democracy in the new constitution. This achievement is attributable to the process. It is the first Constituent Assembly in the annals of history, and it is formed of an equal number of men and women, to provide constitutional validity to gender equity and gender parity.


The proposed constitution for Chile includes a definition of plurinationality, which is the recognition of the existence of the peoples and nations that have long inhabited Chile as well as their right to self-determination. This is in line with developments that have taken place in Latin American constitutionalism over the course of the past few decades. This also contains the right to the full enjoyment of their collective and individual rights, and it tackles the historical wrongdoing of a lack of acknowledgement of the indigenous people that has been residing in the nation up until this point. This is because the indigenous people have fought for recognition for a very long time, and also because the 10 indigenous peoples that have been acknowledged in Chile have a total of 17 representatives who are guaranteed a spot at the convention.

The great care given to environmental problems is another important aspect of this. In this manner, the rights of nature and the state's particular responsibility of care towards natural commons, such as glaciers or oceans, are anchored, and the right of all people to adequate and quality water is ensured. This is a significant step forward in the direction of creating a more socially equitable society in a nation that has been afflicted by water shortages ever since the privatization of water rights.

At the same time, the establishment of social rights, the promotion of a more equitable distribution of power, and the elimination of corrupt practices all provide promising avenues for the resolution of the social and political crisis in Chile. Chile would be in a position to overcome its neoliberal legacy and embark on a path of sustainable and socially balanced development if it were a "social and democratic constitutional state" that guaranteed the right to health, education, social security, and housing. Such a state would guarantee the right to these things for its citizens.


Concerns about the proposed changes to the way the political system is structured are, without a question, in the forefront of most people's minds. The new constitution proposes granting the Chamber of Deputies additional authority, replacing the former Senate with a chamber of regions, and switching from a bicameral assembly to an asymmetric congress. As a result, Chile would establish a whole new political system that has never been seen before, one that mixes asymmetric bi-cameralism with a presidential administration. It remains to be seen how exactly it would operate in actual practice.



However, one can clearly predict that the already existing trend towards the fragmentation of the party landscape might be fostered further as a result of the new constitution, which is an issue with the new constitution. For instance, there was a failure to obtain a consensus on the minimum required percentage of votes to enter the parliament. The idea of political parties was also left out of the text; instead, the word "political organizations" is used. This situation came about as a result of the large number of independents and non-party members present at the convention, as well as those individuals' mistrust of the established parties. On the other hand, this may imply that it will become even more difficult in the future to create solid majorities within the government.


The Chilean people will now have the opportunity to vote on the draft plan on September 4th. The result will not only have an impact on the future of Chile, but it will also be a message to progressive forces throughout the Latin American and Caribbean area. If passed, the new constitution would undoubtedly provide a fruitful model for how to end a severe social and political crisis in a manner that is democratic, nonviolent, and institutionalized, should it be put into effect. In a world where democracy is coming under growing strain, this would be a clear indication that the answer to democracy's difficulties rests in expanding democracy. This would be a powerful signal in a world where democracy is coming under increasing pressure.


In the event that the proposed constitution is not accepted, a quite different set of circumstances will emerge. If this were to happen, it would be the loss of a once-in-a-generation chance for the progressive social and political forces as a whole, and it would put the incoming administration in a position where its political capital would be severely diminished. This would put Chilean institutions in the paradoxical situation of having their previous constitution rejected by 80 percent in a referendum in the year 2020, and then having the constitutional proposal of the democratic body with the most diverse membership in the history of the republic be rejected in a referendum four years later in the year 2022. Both of these events would take place in Chile. The effects of this might lead to fresh social unrest and violence in Chile, as well as a strengthening of extremist groups on the political right.


Either outcome, acceptance or rejection, should be seen by progressive forces in Chile and the region as a challenge or a warning that democratic consolidation can only occur in tandem with political boldness and calls for the formation of long-term coalitions.


Authors: Arlette Gay, Christian Sanchez and C├Ącilie Schildberg
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