Chileans are divided over the draft new Constitution

Chileans are divided over the draft new Constitution

Supporters of the new Constitution are campaigning ahead of the September 4 vote in Santiago.

Chileans will decide on September 4 whether or not to adopt their new Constitution. The project, which had initially aroused enormous popular enthusiasm, ran out of steam. The population is now divided and a majority leans towards rejection.

This was one of the demands of the demonstrators who took to the streets of the country en masse in October 2019. They demanded, among other things, to review the 1980 Constitution, which they designated as the source of the inequalities that afflict Chilean society.

A political agreement was reached and, in May 2021, Chileans elected 155 constituents, mostly from civil society. Half of the seats were reserved for women and 17 for Aboriginal people.

The result of their work is a 178-page text, made up of 388 articles, which emphasizes the recognition of social rights, environmental protection and parity.

Art.1.1. Chile is a state of social and democratic law. It is multinational, intercultural, regional and ecological.

Delivered to the president on July 4, the draft Constitution must now be put to a vote, which will be compulsory for Chileans aged 18 and over. To enter into force, this new Constitution must be adopted by a simple majority.

The project differs fundamentally from the previous text, drafted under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) .

Chile's President Gabriel Boric presents the draft Constitution during a ceremony in Congress, in Santiago, on July 4, 2022.

The new Constitution proposes another country model, argues Rossana Castiglioni, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and History of the Diego Portales University, in Santiago.

A crucial point, she thinks, is how one conceives of the role of the state. In the 1980 Constitution, it had a subsidiary role to that of the private sector. The state only intervened when all else had failed, Ms. Castiglioni points out.

In addition to recognizing a social and democratic state of law, the new Constitution gives it great preeminence .

“This is a paradigm shift. »

— Rossana Castiglioni, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and History at Diego Portales University

This translates into a long list of social rights that were part of the demands of the protesters, including the right to housing, water, social security, work and sufficient and culturally relevant food. It establishes universal access to health, education and information technology, among others.

Art.1.3. It is the duty of the State to create the necessary conditions and provide the goods and services to ensure the equal enjoyment of rights and the integration of people in political, economic, social and cultural life. for their full development.

This recognition of the social state of law is at the heart of the Constitution, believes Domingo Lovera, director of the public law program at the University Diego Portales.

The project also recognizes the existence of indigenous peoples (whose right to self-determination is established), and provides for the creation of bodies for citizen participation and direct democracy. Parity is written in it: public institutions and bodies must ensure that at least half of their members are women.

The icing on the cake is that& #x27;it recognizes the rights of children and adolescents, which were absent from the previous Constitution, underlines Mr. Lovera.

Chileans are divided. After voting in favor of replacing the Constitution and for a Constituent Assembly elected by the people to take on this task rather than politicians, not everyone is satisfied with the result.

Opponents of the draft Constitution demonstrate in Santiago on July 30.

According to the most recent polls, rejection leads by 48% to 38% for approval, with 14% undecided. However, the gap has narrowed a little compared to previous soundings and Domingo Lovera, who is in favor of the project, thinks that the chips are not yet down.

Copies of the draft Constitution, just published, are flying like hot cakes. At least 70,000 copies have found takers. It's the best-selling book in the country, notes Mr. Lovera. We are already in the ninth edition.

“People are reading it, getting information and asking questions in the forums of discussing. They want to make an informed decision. »

— Domingo Lovera, Director of the Public Law Program at Diego Portales University

It is the undecided who will tip the balance, believes for her part Rossana Castiglioni. Voting will be mandatory on September 4. However, during the last elections, in particular for the project of Constituent Assembly, barely half of the population exercised their right to vote, she underlines. What will happen with the other half? We ignore it. We do not know how they line up.

The draft Constitution is a poorly put together motley assembly whose failure was entirely predictable, says Juan Carlos Arellano, professor of science politics at the Catholic University of Temuco, Chile.

Mapuche people participate in the ceremony during which the draft Constitution was handed over to President Boric, July 4, 2022 .

The way in which the members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen has allowed the election of independent candidates who have made themselves the standard bearers of very diverse causes, such as the environment, the indigenous question or gender.


We now find ourselves with a Constitution that tries to please each of these movements, he observes. After getting the cause they hold dear to appear in one of the articles, they assume a triumphalist position, instead of listening to citizens.

Result: many felt left behind.

“We created expectations of citizen participation that were not met. We are far from the national unity that we were looking for after the social crisis. »

—Juan Carlos Arellano, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Temuco

The presence of so many independent candidates, with no affiliation with traditional political parties, which had been very positively received at the start, ultimately proved to be rather difficult to manage, also believes Rossana Castiglioni.

They did not have the necessary political experience to negotiate and were unwilling to give in on these issues which they considered fundamental. But what seems reasonable from an individual perspective may be a problem from a collective perspective.

“It complicated negotiations between members of the Assembly and alienated some people who did not read the whole text but who hung on one particular aspect, which is important to them and on which they have the impression of taking a step back.

— Rossana Castiglioni, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and History at Diego Portales University

The recognition of Indigenous rights is one of those issues that divide Chileans.

The new Constitution declares Chile to be a multinational and intercultural state, recognizes the right to land restitution and allows for the creation of a separate legal system.

The Mapuche have been calling for land restitution and greater autonomy for decades.

That scares a lot of people, Arellano notes. While most Chileans approve of the recognition of indigenous peoples, they consider certain provisions to be excessive, in particular the existence of two justice systems. There would be one justice for Chileans and another for Indigenous people, he notes. We wonder how it will work and we worry about the inequality it could create between citizens.

About 10% of Chileans, or 2 million people, declare themselves to be of indigenous origin. Some 17 of the 155 seats in the Constituent Assembly were reserved for them.

Recognition of the rights of other historically marginalized groups, such as sexual minorities or women, as well as the right abortion, also pose a problem for certain more conservative sectors, observes Domingo Lovera.

Other criticisms are related to institutional innovations, such as the elimination of the Senate, which will be replaced by a Regional Chamber.

“Chile is a fractured society that has significant disagreements about how to organize itself politically. When we enter a process of constitutional redefinition, it is logical that these disagreements come to the surface. »

— Domingo Lovera, Director of the Public Law Program at Diego Portales University

It is the current Constitution, inherited from the dictatorship, but modified several times, which would remain in force.

In October 2019, Chileans demonstrated massively to demand change.

However, the Chilean President, Gabriel Boric, maintained that the Chileans having disavowed the Constitution of 1980, in the event of rejection of the project, a new Constituent Assembly should be elected in order to draft a new document.

“If the rejection [of the Constitution] wins, we are going to have to prolong this process for another year and a half, and everything will have to be discussed again from scratch. »

— Gabriel Boric, President of Chile, interviewed on ChileVision channel

In the meantime, the Senate recently passed a bill that simplifies amendments to the current Constitution. It will soon be studied in the Chamber of Deputies.

One ​​way or another, change is inevitable, believes Rossana Castiglioni.

The Constitution in force today was designed in sin, between four walls, without democratic and deliberative debates, she notes.

Although the text has undergone changes over the years, they are ad hoc and do not fundamentally change the situation.

“It is clear that the people don't want the status quo to continue. »

— Rossana Castiglioni, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and History at Diego Portales University

Even the right, which is the most opposed to the idea of ​​change, ended up buying into it, notes Mr. Arellano. Our country will have a new Constitution, but it is not certain that it will be this one, he says.

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