Keys to understand the rejection of the new Constitution of Chile

Chileans' overwhelming rejection of a new constitution in Sunday's plebiscite leaves in the air a process that began three years ago with student protests that led to a movement to reform the country's political system.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
05 September 2022 Monday 08:31
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Keys to understand the rejection of the new Constitution of Chile

Chileans' overwhelming rejection of a new constitution in Sunday's plebiscite leaves in the air a process that began three years ago with student protests that led to a movement to reform the country's political system.

With 99% of the votes counted, 62% of Chileans voted in favor of rejecting the Constitution drafted by a constituent convention, and 38% for its approval. The vote was intended to be the culmination of the movement that began at the end of 2019. Instead, it is the first major defeat of that process and a heavy blow to President Gabriel Boric, who had tied his political future to campaigning for the new text and whose government is rapidly losing popularity after six months in power.

Despite the polls predicting the victory of the "Rejection", the difference of more than twenty points has caught everyone by surprise. Experts and analysts agree that the result harms the president and his executive. "It is a strong blow for the first year of Boric's government, who decided to bet his political capital on 'approval,'" political analyst and professor at the O'Higgins State University (UOH) Juan Pablo Araya explained to EFE.

Boric played a key role in the signing of the agreement signed across the board by all political forces in November 2019 and which gave way to the constituent process. During the campaign he insisted several times on the idea that the process would come to fruition and even as president he has declared himself in favor of the 'yes'. “I have a hard time imagining that, after everything that has happened in Chile, we decide to go back to zero with respect to the 1980 Constitution ″, he said.

But despite beginning his presidency last March with a 50% approval rating, various crises have caused his popularity to drop and some voters may have seen the plebiscite as a referendum on his government.

The election in 2021 of the 155 constituents who would be in charge of preparing the future constitutional text yielded a majority of leftists and candidates outside the traditional parties. Despite starting his work with a high level of support, his popularity has been declining as the scandals have followed one another. Two months after starting up, the organization's vice president, Rodrigo Rojas, known for his activism in favor of free and universal healthcare, was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had lied when he said he had cancer.

The 388-article proposed charter, in addition to focusing on social and environmental issues, defined Chile as a plurinational state, introduced the right to free education, health care, and housing, and advocated gender equality. It would have established autonomous indigenous territories and recognized a parallel justice system in those areas, although legislators would decide how far it would go. By contrast, the current constitution is a pro-free-market document that prioritizes the private sector in things like education, pensions, and health care. Nor does it refer to the indigenous population of the country, which represents almost 13% of the population.

Its critics claimed that it was too long, lacked clarity and went too far in some of its measures. They argued that it is a "radical" text and that "it does not unite the country." The multinational character of the State, the presidential re-election, the justice system and the elimination of the Senate are some of the issues included in the text that generated the most controversy.

In the months leading up to the plebiscite, the draft was criticized not only by right-wing parties, but also by key figures in the center-left governments that ruled the country for two decades after the end of the dictatorship in 1990.

The overwhelming victory of "Rechazo" opens an uncertain and complex scenario of dialogue between the Government, the different political forces and civil society on how the constitutional process should continue. The only certainty is that with the result, Chile maintains the current Magna Carta, written in 1980 under the dictatorship and partially reformed in democracy, as its legal framework.

In July, President Boric established the roadmap in case of disapproving the constitutional proposal by assuring that "there has to be a new constitutional process" -he affirmed- that will last for another year and a half, and in which "there will be having to discuss everything all over again from scratch".

In this context, the president assured this Sunday that citizens have spoken clearly and announced that he has already summoned the leaders of Congress and representatives of civil society to a meeting this Monday at the Palacio de La Moneda to study the new itinerary and see how to speed it up.

Despite the defeat of the reform, analysts say that the vast majority of Chileans believe that the current constitution should be changed. Therefore, it would be a mistake to consider that the vote in favor of "Rejection" is against the constitutional change.

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