After rejecting a leftist constitution in 2022, Chileans vote against a conservative alternative

Dec 18, 2023 | 0 comments

Chile has rejected the proposal for a new constitution drafted by a right-leaning Constitutional Council. With 99% counted, 55% voted “no” to the new charter on Sunday, with about 44% in favor. Turnout was 83%. The result was predicted by polls released 15 days ago. But it was an open race, in part because voting in Chile is mandatory, meaning there are new voters who could sway the outcome. Polls had also indicated that support for the proposed constitution was rising.

The result brings to a close a four-year process to draft a new charter. In other words, Chile is back where it was in November 2019, when politicians offered society the chance to change the Chilean Constitution as a way to calm the unrest that had swept across the country. Sunday’s result means that Chile will keep its current Constitution, which was drafted in 1980 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Since Chile’s transition to democracy, it has undergone 70 reforms.

Protesters in Santiago demonstrate against a proposed right-wing constitution.

This is the second time that Chile has rejected a proposal for a new constitution. In 2022, 62% of voters rejected a charter that was drafted by a left-leaning convention. This year, the document was written by a convention that was dominated by right-wing commission members, including members of the far-right Republican Party. The left in Chile rejected the charter, even though it means keeping a Constitution that dates back to the dictatorship. When voting Sunday morning, former president Michelle Bachelet, from the Socialist Party, said that the left had to resign themselves to choosing “between something bad and something terrible.”

But Sunday’s outcome is not a victory for the left-wing government of Gabriel Boric, which campaigned against the new charter. The “no” vote was also backed by sectors of the center-left that are not in government, as well as groups that are even more far-right than the Republican Party. It has, however, been met with relief by the government: if the new charter had succeeded, it would have been a disaster for the Boric administration.

The focus now is on the right-wing commission members, in particular José Antonio Kast, from the Republican Party. Kast presided the convention behind the failed charter, even though his party never wanted to change the current Constitution. With Sunday’s defeat — by a margin of 10 percentage points — the traditional right-wing is likely to try to take back ground from the far right. “We recognize defeat with clarity and humility,” Kast said on Sunday night.

The left was opposed to the new charter, arguing that it deepened the neoliberal principles of the current Constitution and jeopardized women’s rights. “This proposal puts Chile’s progress in women’s equality and non-discrimination at risk,” said lawyer Macarena Sáez, executive director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The draft charter was not very different from the current Constitution, but it did include a key issue: it proposed that basic goods in health, education and pensions be financed with general revenue. It, however, allowed for both a state and private system to operate.

The constituent process began with the agreements of November 2019, when the political class offered citizens a route to change the Constitution. But now it’s not clear that the country’s problems stem from the Constitution. Some, including sociologist Eugenio Tironi, questioned whether it would have been better to undertake a more modest plan of socioeconomic reforms instead of trying to change the Constitution. The social unrest of 2019 not only threatened the conservative government of Sebastián Piñera, but also the country’s very democracy, with mass protests met with unprecedented levels of violence.
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Credit: El Pais

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