Chile’s New Constitution: Drafting of a New Policy Document for a Divided and Unequal Country

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Today, Loncon, 58, holds a master’s degree and two doctorates. She is also one of 155 members of the country’s new constituent assembly tasked with drafting the new bill of rights.

Can a new constitution solve Chile's old problems?
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This Sunday, this assembly holds its first official session, starting a process that should last up to a year and produce a text that will be ratified by a new plebiscite. This is historic not only because it symbolically ends the legacy of Chile’s authoritarian regime. It is also a rare opportunity for a country to set new directions for the 21st century.

Chile’s constitutional assembly is expected to try to limit the privileges of an elite with a dominant grip on political power, which still acts as an oligarchy. At the center of the constitutional debate will be whether to eliminate an existing section that regulates the state’s power to develop entrepreneurial activities – which most Chileans believe would lead to new social protection policies. Most of the assembly members also aim to promote greater civic participation and better environmental protection in the new constitution.

Demonstrators and elected constituents march towards the Chilean National Congress where the Constituent Assembly would be inaugurated in Santiago on July 4, 2021.

Unprecedented diversity and gender parity

Since its election, Chile’s Constitutional Assembly has attracted the attention of all of Latin America for its political, racial and cultural diversity – and for the uncertainty that surrounds it. Conservatives fear he will not be able to generate a balanced bill of rights in a country where the voices of those who once felt marginalized have grown louder.

The composition of the assembly is undoubtedly a game-changer for Chilean politics, with 155 members who, on the whole, reflect Chileans’ strong rejection of the established political class: the center-left and right-wing coalitions that stand together. power sharing since the return to democracy in 1990 both took a serious hit, winning only 16% and 24% of the seats, respectively. Independent and newcomers to left-wing political parties and social movements, on the other hand, had their heyday, garnering 60% of the vote.

“There is a lot of uncertainty around the process because you have a group of people who are not professional politicians, are somewhat inexperienced and unpredictable. It’s hard to know how willing they are to compromise.” says Oliver Stuenkel, professor of International Relations at the Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FVG) in Sao Paulo and non-resident researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But I couldn’t think of a more democratic and inclusive way to do it,” he adds.

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Loncon is a good example of the diversity of this assembly. She is both a woman and an indigenous person: two groups that have found new influence in the constitutional process. Chile’s convention is the first in the world to have gender parity (77 members are women) and the first in the country’s history to include designated seats (17) for indigenous representatives.

It also includes environmentalists, feminists, members of the LGBTQ + community and Chileans from all walks of life. Lawyers, political scientists, engineers and historians will coexist with social activists, stay-at-home moms and school bus drivers, among others. The average age of voters is 44 years old. Many of them participated in the October 2019 protests.

Chile’s current constitution was written under the influence of the neoliberal model of economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago. Despite his numerous amendments, a majority of Chileans consider him too liberal and blame him for the country’s strong inequalities.

According to the World Inequity Lab, a research center focused on studying the distribution of income and wealth around the world, Chile is the most unequal country in Latin America, with the richest 10% accounting for 60% of the world. average national income. It is a reality that most Chileans are weary of. In 2020, the “Encuesta Bicentenario” (bicentennial survey) which measures cultural indicators every year since 2010, showed that 77% of Chileans believe that there is a “great conflict” between rich and poor. In this context, many see the new constitution as the solution.

Chile is opening up to new political actors. We have been called upon to write something different, ”Loncon explains.

Tomás Laibe is a 30-year-old political scientist and LGBTQ + activist who was elected to the assembly in the southern city of Puerto Aysén. He is a member of the Socialist Party and believes that his generation is transforming the way of doing politics. The ruling elite used to making top-down decisions and protecting their own economic interests are being crushed, he says.

“This is the first time that institutional politics have resembled the real Chile. We will not have men talking about women’s issues, straight guys talking about sexual diversity or white people talking about the needs of indigenous communities. . We will do it ourselves because we are better represented today, ”he adds.

The political disillusion is real. According to the “Encuesta Bicentenario”, in 2020 only 10% of Chileans trusted the government and the figure drops to 1% when it comes to the House of Parliament.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shows the official document calling on members of the National Assembly who will draft a new constitution to meet for their first session on July 4, at the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday June 20 2021.

Find consensus

The outcome of this process is still very uncertain.

The assembly is notoriously left-wing, and so far members on the other side of the political spectrum have been absent from the debate. CNN contacted five members of the right-wing coalition, but all declined to comment. Until the October referendum, the majority of the coalition campaigned against the constitutional amendment.

But it’s not just the left against the right. Many members of the assembly come from groups spawned by social movements that have come together for electoral purposes only; they are far from thinking the same. Even within parties, consensus is not certain.

“The different groups are not cohesive and even when members of more established political parties try to get along within their cohort, dissenting voices are raised,” says Patricio Fernández, center-left journalist and writer, elected independent. in one of the districts of Santiago.

Over the past month, voters have virtually met to get to know each other. Even at this early stage, tensions arose when 34 members decided to come together in a group called “Vocería de los Pueblos” (Voice of the People) declaring that they refused to abide by the rules of the convention, which the parties on both sides of the political spectrum had come to an agreement before the referendum.

Vocería de los Pueblos called for “popular sovereignty” and demanded the release of political prisoners, among others, drawing much criticism. Yet since then his number has only grown, with 11 more voters joining him.

“This whole process is full of nuances,” says Fernández. “I didn’t like the sectarian tone of Vocería de los Pueblos’ statement, because we have to build a constitution on dialogue and not on imposition, but when you talk to them individually, they are much less radical than they are. does not appear. ”

Elisa Giustinianovich, a 36-year-old chemical engineer who defines herself as an ecofeminist activist, is a member of “Vocería de los Pueblos”. She lives in the southernmost region of Chile and has been very active during the 2019 protests. She insists the declaration was not an ultimatum and regrets the “overreaction” it caused in the media and among right-wing and center-left politicians.

“They called us everything: surly, undemocratic, putschists. It was brutal,” she said.

Chilean President greets the

The next few weeks will be crucial to see if the members of the assembly are really open to dialogue. Conservatives fear that the constitutional process could degenerate into a populist path for a leader to consolidate executive power, as has happened in Bolivia and Venezuela. But experts say it’s unlikely; Claudia Heiss, doctor of political science and author of the book “¿Por qué necesitamos una nueva constitución?” (Why do we need a new constitution?), Don’t see it as a possibility.

“In Chile we are witnessing an institutional response to a social uprising and its demands. It is unprecedented in Latin America to have a process that begins as a revolution and turns into a convention with limited duties,” says -it.

The numbers alone could force different political sectors to find consensus, as neither has the two-thirds majority required to approve a bill nor the third to veto. Plus, there is common ground to work on: Most voters have shown that they are willing to move away from free market-oriented public policies in areas such as health, education, and healthcare. pensions.

Perhaps more importantly, if the convention succeeds in drafting a constitution that meets the needs of modern Chileans, it could have a big impact on the rest of Latin America.

“The region is rudderless right now. There is this endless cycle of instability, popular discontent, protests and the emergence of new leaders who propose changes and then disappoint,” Stuenkel said.

“If Chile is doing well, it has the potential to become a country that sets an example for others to follow.”

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