Voters Reject Chile’s New Draft Constitution – The Organization for World Peace
Sunday, September 4, Chileans were called to vote on the new draft constitution and while polls had shown growing dissatisfaction with the new document, no one expected such an overwhelming rejection. The proposed draft, meant to replace the current 1980 constitution, was rejected by 62% of voters, according to Chile’s electoral service. This result now leaves Chile in a locked position, with uncertainty about what will happen next.
The process leading up to Sunday’s vote began in 2019 when large student protests erupted across the country, expressing anger over inequality and social disintegration. Although Chile is considered an economic powerhouse in Latin America, the benefits of its dynamic market have been concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving deep frustrations due to the lack of investment in health care, the education and infrastructure. The popular belief was that the current constitution, which dates from the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, stood in the way of the necessary expansion of funding for social programs. There is also a powerful symbolic message in replacing a constitution that, though amended nearly 60 times, was written by a dictatorial system with a new one that was democratically written.
Following the 2019 protests, most political parties signed a Acuerdo por social peace and the new constitution, which led to a national referendum held in October 2020 to determine whether a new constitution should be drafted. 78% of votes expressed support for a new national constitution, and a 154-member constitutional convention was elected by popular vote in May 2021. The constitutional convention, formed by 69 unorthodox leftist independents, 37 center-right coalitions , 25 traditional centre-left coalitions, 17 indigenous and 4 centre-independent, was the first in the world to have an equal number of female and male members and to include such a high number of indigenous representatives. The constitutional process has been internationally hailed as an example of democracy, but the resulting 178-page draft has always been deemed unsatisfactory by the Chilean population.
The project contained a series of new elements, particularly in the welfare and social programs. It introduced broader social rights regarding social security, health, workers’ rights and access to food and housing. Moreover, it recognized the state’s responsibility towards nature, emphasizing Chile’s “ecological” identity. It also ensured gender parity in all state organs and public enterprises and guaranteed sexual and reproductive rights. While these measures were already considered “too liberal” by the conservatives, the section concerning indigenous rights was arguably the most contested. In fact, the draft constitution defined Chile as a “plurinational” state, proposing greater autonomy for indigenous territories and recognition of a parallel indigenous legal justice system. But according to right-wing representatives, these guarantees to indigenous peoples would lead to divisions within the country.
The left has also expressed two main concerns. The first is that even though the Constitutional Convention was formed by a majority of left-progressive representatives, Chile remains a conservative country and many people would not accept a constitution that would fundamentally tilt their country to the left. A constitution must represent the views of the people, and this draft clearly does not. Moreover, the proposed project seems too ambitious. The implementation of new social projects would lead to a large increase in budget expenditures, but many fear that Chile does not have the financial capacity to support these expenditures. This means that the impact of the new constitution on the economy would have been negative, at least in the short and medium term.
In general, the proposed new constitution has received several criticisms, and the counter has not yet decided what will happen next. President Gabriel Boric, who has bet a large part of his political capital on this constitutional project, welcomed the result of the vote “with great humility” and pledged to deploy efforts to “build a new constitutional itinerary for alongside Congress and civil society. Thus, the journey towards a new constitution for Chile continues, although it is unclear how the constitutional process will be modified to come up with an amended and improved draft.