President Sebastian Pinera, center, arrives at La Moneda presidential palace. Esteban Felix/AP photo

Chile begins drafting new constitution

In Chile, the elections for the candidacy of the Constitutional Convention, a panel of 155 delegates of equal gender parity, were chosen over the weekend from multiple political parties across the spectrum to draft the new constitution, according to Al Jazeera.


The decision for the rewrite comes after the city of Santiago saw approximately two million citizens take to the streets in 2019 to protest a hike in subway fare—and the entire structure of their economy.


After months of protesting, President Sebastian Piñera announced a compromise to the people, allowing them to reevaluate their constitution and consider drafting a new one. The vote to approve the rewrite, originally set for April 26, was postponed due to COVID-19 until October 2020, where a plebiscite was held, and it was decided that an overwhelming majority of Chileans wanted to have a new constitution drafted by elected members of a Constitutional Convention.


“This is the culmination of a political crisis that had been a long time coming,” said Claudia Heiss, the head of the political science department at the University of Chile. “An increase in participation puts an end to a binomial era [since the return to democracy] in which Chile was ruled by two coalitions with high governability but low representation.”


To address disparity in the current constitution, a required 17 delegates, or 9% of the panel, must be indigenous Chileans. Seven of these 17 seats are reserved for the Mapuche, two for the Aymara, and one to Quechua, Atacameños, Qulla, Kawésqar, Diaguitas, Yaghanes, Changos and the Rapa Nui.


“We are voting with pride and identity for the first time,” said Maribel Mora Curriao, a Mapuche poet. “We have taken this process very seriously and we are very much aware that this is a unique opportunity not only for us but for the Chilean people as a whole.” 


As of May 17, the results showed a mixed political spread for the seats. 48 of the seats have gone to those of mixed, independent political status, 37 have gone to conservative delegates, 28 have gone to left-wing delegates, 23 for center-left/liberal and 17 for the previously mentioned indigenous delegates. The percentage of seats won by conservative delegates, less than 33%, will reduce the veto power of the right, which includes Chile’s current center-right ruling party, Chile Vamos.


Each bill that is to be added into the new constitution will be put to a vote for the Constitutional Convention, and a two-thirds majority approval will be necessary to include the bill. As BBC reported, “some of the more controversial proposals include changes to private property rights enshrined in the current text as well as to the employment legislation, which could clash with interests of traditional investors. Parties on the left want greater state control of mineral and natural resources…and more public spending on education, health, pensions and social welfare.”


The ongoing protests have included rejection of neoliberal policies that govern Chile. There is a strong malaise among Chileans regarding their partially privatized healthcare services, poor pension programs and the current state of education. Candidates likely to bolster proposals for reforms have two-thirds majority to make it into the New Constitution. “The new charter will involve a bit more state and a bit less market,” according to The Economist.


The Convention will have nine months to debate amongst themselves and make key decisions in the drafting process, after which they can request an additional three months, giving them potentially up to a year to draft the new Constitution. After a draft has been created, it will be put to a public vote for its approval. While the people are witnessing the writing of this revised constitution, they will remain as a democratic republic and must still abide by the international treaties previously signed.


In addition to these elections, there are concomitant municipal elections going on around the country. 345 mayors and 2,252 city councilors are also up for election. France 24 reported that these elections are “usually a litmus test for presidential elections, next due in November.” 


“Many people are saying that [the constitutional convention election] was the day that the transition to democracy finally reached its conclusion,” said Verónica Figueroa Huencho, an academic at the University of Chile’s School of Public Affairs.


“The participation of indigenous peoples and independent candidates in a gender-equal constitutional assembly is a launchpad for a new Chile,” Huencho said.