Thirty-three months after the social outbreak that changed its history, Chile already has its second tangible result: the draft of a new Constitution to replace the one sanctioned in the 1980s by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The first result? The arrival of Gabriel Boric at La Moneda Palace at just 36 years old. And both phenomena are linked, they cannot be understood separately: if the Constitution is not born, the most left-wing government since that of Salvador Allende in the 1970s will have a serious problem.
The plebiscite on September 4, which will or will not approve the text, “is not and should not be a trial of the government, it is the debate on the future and destiny of Chile for the next four or five decades,” said Boric upon receiving the work of a Constitutional Convention that began sanctioning a year ago in a country in turmoil. For multiple reasons: the still lasting effects of the October 2019 outbreak, the rejection by broad sectors of the Sebastián Piñera government, and the internal disputes in the leftist coalition that ended up winning the Presidency. The sight is now set on September.
If the text is approved, the social, political and economic structure of the country will undergo a radical change. If it is rejected, the Government will suffer. This Monday, in the old building of the National Congress, in the center of Santiago de Chile, everyone was aware of the sensitivity of the moment. So delicate that neither Eduardo Frei, nor Ricardo Lagos, nor Michelle Bachelet, nor Piñera, the four living former presidents, attended the draft delivery ceremony, despite having been invited. Boric, who was not expected to speak, changed his mind. The president arrived late to the ceremony, and this time he could not blame the protocol services for waiting for King Felipe VI, as happened on the day of his inauguration, on March 11.
These are the keys to the new Magna Carta:
The text is exhaustive, with a number of articles that place it among the largest in the world. The Convention was equal in terms of its members, and requires “achieving substantive equality and parity”, with at least 50% women in all State bodies. This is derived from article 1, key in the text: Chile is a “social and democratic State of law, plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological.” Article 2 adds that it is a “solidarity” Republic that recognizes as values ”the dignity, freedom, substantive equality of human beings and their indissoluble relationship with nature.”
This “plurinational and intercultural state” recognizes 11 peoples and nations that will have political autonomy, although without the right to secede. They will also have their own legal system, although the Supreme Court will have the last word.
The exercise of “sexual and reproductive rights” is recognized and the State is summoned to guarantee the possibility of exercising the right to abortion.
This characteristic of “social and democratic state of law” puts limits on the passion for privatization, which marked the Pinochet dictatorship and the first 30 years of the current democratic stage. Thus, the water is declared “good inappropriate.”
Another important change: the Senate will disappear in 2026 and will be replaced by a “chamber of the regions” with limited powers that will make the Chamber of Deputies the center of political life.
No. 55% of Chileans acknowledge not having read the draft of the new Constitution, and in the polls ahead of the September referendum, the possibility that the “no” will win is ever greater. Boric’s approval rating less than four months after taking office is 24%. Does this mean that the Government is finished? No. Chilean public opinion is especially volatile and demanding. Boric’s government and the president himself have made mistakes in these months, but they have also had successes, far from the sectarianism that many feared from a government that presented itself as pure leftist, but ended up being social democratic. The strong growth in crime, the impossibility of controlling the situation in Araucanía and the notorious economic deterioration are Boric’s biggest problems today.
The new Constitution is a red line for the Chilean right, in disagreement with its spirit and with almost all of its key articles. The opposition is preparing its message for an electoral campaign in which it will urge a “no” vote. Indigenism, special justice for the original peoples and the obligation to return certain forest lands to the original inhabitants are among their fears. Also the progressive installation of a single health system, under the control of the State, which will play a decisive role in the administration of resources such as water, minerals and pension funds. Aware that the new Constitution could be rejected for having gone too far, the conventional Jaime Bassa, from the Broad Front, Boric’s political group, spoke with CNN Chile about how to continue: “The last word is with the citizens, and if the citizenship on September 4 considers that the text is insufficient (…), on September 5 we will have to get to work on a different proposal”.
No. As the conventional Bassa pointed out, a rejection would prompt the supporters of a new Constitution to write a new text that achieves consensus. But even if the new Constitution is approved, immutability will be far from being its characteristic. It was established that the text can be reformed with 4/7 (four sevenths) of the votes of Congress and, if necessary, with a new plebiscite, be totally reformed. “That is to say, the current Congress, without a single vote from the Communist Party or the Broad Front, will be able to change a large part of the constitution and, if it so wishes, call a plebiscite to completely modify it,” said political analyst Noam Titelman in the Ex-Ante site. “Those of us who will support passage would do well to put on the table as concrete a ‘day after’ proposal as possible,” he added.
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