Chile flatly rejects the new Constitution
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Chile has said no to the new Constitution. The magnitude of the defeat has had epic dimensions: 62% for rejection against 38% for approval. The most pessimistic forecasts did not anticipate such a drop. The result is a very hard blow for the Government of Gabriel Boric, who had bet everything on a victory of approval. That same night, in a message read from La Moneda, the president announced the call for this Monday of the highest authorities of Parliament “to advance as quickly as possible a new constituent process.” He also announced “prompt adjustments in our government teams, to face this new period with renewed vigor.”
The triumph of rejection has been overwhelming. He comfortably won in all regions of the country, including the capital, with 55% of the vote in a bastion that was key in Gabriel Boric’s victory in the second round last November. With 7.8 million votes, he was the most voted electoral option in the history of Chile, a record tempered by the debut of compulsory voting and automatic registration. 85% of Chileans left their homes this Sunday to vote.
Now a new stage begins, with an Executive forced to keep the constituent process alive but very weak to impose its ideas and even the roadmap. The right and a good part of the political center-left have convinced society that the proposal emanating from a constitutional convention dominated by the left drafted “a bad text.” The president immediately accepted the defeat and promised to “build together with Congress and civil society a new constituent itinerary.” “I take this message and make it my own, we must listen to the voice of the people,” he said.
– I approve
– in white
That same voice demands a renewal of the Cabinet, necessary to oxygenate a management that with less than six months in La Moneda has suffered a blow of dimensions. Boric promised “new energy”, which means the departure of ministers of his highest confidence but very worn out. Quite presumably, he would change two of his fellow travelers and part of the new left-wing generation that he installed in his first ring of power: Izkia Siches, the first woman to come to the Interior, and Giorgio Jackson, his minister from the General Secretariat of the Presidency, which handles relations with Congress.
A Failed Response to the Outburst
The new Constitution was the institutional solution that the political class offered Chile to channel the unrest after the popular uprisings of 2019. Only three years later, people have said that it was not enough. The atmosphere of agitation that followed the outbreak gave the new text a profile of profound changes, with an emphasis on gender parity, ecology and recognition of indigenous peoples. The star faded little by little as the Convention lost the confidence of Chileans and fear grew among those who saw their status quo. But the conviction has survived the process that the current Constitution, drawn up between four walls during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, must be buried.
The moderate sectors of the right and the left, triumphant in the plebiscite, must now respect the citizen decision of the October 2020 plebiscite, when 78% of the people were about to change the current Constitution. But they will put their conditions. The dimension of rejection gives you cards to impose your ideas. They will be able to question the most controversial points of the rejected text, such as the declaration of Chile as a multinational State or the end of the Senate. They won’t have much time. The demands that promoted the constituent process as a way out of the crisis are still there, and with it the threat of new revolts.
Boric’s call involves bringing together the political and citizen forces that have campaigned for the rejection of the constitutional text put to the test this Sunday. “It must be made clear that this is not a victory for the right, which only appeared today, once the victory was known,” says Octavio Avendaño, an academic at the University of Chile. “This trend in favor of rejection was broad because it was transversal. The rejection came from sectors of the center and center left, who questioned how the convention was being conducted. They are sectors that warned of the risks of the elimination of the Senate or the extension of the text with many weak flanks. Everyone had reservations, and that worked against the promotion of the new text”, he explains.
Among the detractors were important voices from the center-left, some that were even referents of the democratic transition that began in 1990. Although he was careful not to clarify how he had voted, former president Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) warned from the beginning of the referendum process that the text emanating from the Convention had not served the purpose of “uniting Chileans”. “What we have here is a state of hatred due to this exercise and that is not viable in a civilized society. morning [por el lunes] a new constitutional debate begins”, he said after voting in the capital.
All political sectors will be in the debate, at least those that are far from the extremes. Former right-wing president Sebastián Piñera announced that the forces he represents “are committed to a good Constitution.” He also asked for changes the former Christian Democrat president Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), one of the heirs of the Concertación who voted for the rejection. “This Monday a new stage opens. All the political and social actors have said that ways must be found, because this new Constitution is not enough for all Chileans. Everyone wants a Constitution that is for everyone.” Only the socialist Michelle Bachelet, president in two terms, openly campaigned for approval. However, she remained in line with the consensus and the need for changes. “It is key that we understand that there are points that we cannot go back, such as equality, participation, the environment, the rights of all,” she said from Geneva, where she still has her residence as a former official of the UN.
A text for the majority
The debate now is how that integrating text that the majorities demand will be achieved. Failed the bet for a convention dominated by the left and independent citizens of the most varied, the process returns “to the hands of traditional politics”, says Juan Pardo, director of studies of the Feedback consultancy, “and there the positions are balanced” . “Clearly there will be a return to the centrist consensus,” he explains. Boric announced that he had consulted constitutionalists “to give continuity to the process in case the other option wins,” that is, rejection.
With key aspects such as the definition of a social and democratic State and the incorporation of new economic and social rights, the proposal ensured equality between men and women in various fields and had a marked ecological accent. But it contained aspects that divided Chilean society. According to the latest Feedback survey released in mid-July, there were two issues of the utmost importance for those who did not support the text drafted by the constitutional convention: the idea that “not everyone is going to be equal before the law” (39% ) –Chileans and native peoples– and the premise that “with its plurinationality, Chile runs the risk of dividing” (31%). According to the same survey, the third aspect that worried those who rejected it was that “you will not be able to freely choose the health system”, but this option was much lower than the other two (10%). The rights of indigenous people, in a country where 13% are recognized as such, was one of the issues that was discussed with greater force both in the drafting of the new Constitution and in the campaign period.
It is not yet clear if there will be a new consultation to determine the mechanism or if a new convention will be called directly. The rules for the election of the body would not be the same as in the previous process, neither in their number (155 conventional), nor in the work period (the convention worked between July 2021 and July 2022), nor in the conformation . Surely there will be discussion about the 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples and the extensive facilities for independents outside the parties, although there would be greater consensus about maintaining parity between men and women.
With the triumph of rejection, moderation has won. The opposition campaign to the draft of the new Constitution prepared by the Constituent Assembly has relied on the work of center-left groups that have organized outside party structures, of the traditional right-wing parties that have ceded prominence to civil society, but, above all, of large masses of voters who do not identify with the political sectors. In any case, this Sunday’s plebiscite has been more the beginning than the end of a long road for Chile.
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