Gabriel Boric prepares a new constituent process for Chile
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The president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, is beaten. The proposal for a new Constitution that he defended as his own suffered an overwhelming defeat in the binding plebiscite held on Sunday. 62% of Chileans who voted rejected the text with their ballot and buried the work of a year of a constitutional convention controlled by the left. Boric must now save the process, if he intends to leave a legacy at the end of his term, in 2026. This Monday, he convened the presidents of the Senate and Deputies at La Moneda, the seat of government in Santiago, to draw a roadmap towards a new Convention.
The official thesis is that “the people of Chile have already defined themselves by having a new Constitution,” as Boric said the night of the defeat, referring to the majority consensus to change it. If the Chileans rejected the text presented, the president defends that another one will have to be drafted. For this he has the support of the right, which finally agreed to bury the current Constitution, inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Run, however, at a disadvantage. His defeat at the polls has been so extensive that he will have to negotiate every point of the process.
Chile is now looking for a new constituent path. In October 2020, 80% of Chileans voted to draft a new text. The country was still on fire from the riots of October 2109. When the Convention was elected, the result was consistent with that climate of agitation. The left obtained the majority and the right was reduced to the role of spectator of a process in which they could not influence. The result was a text with an ecological and feminist profile and an institutional structure that reduced the power of the president and control agencies. The Senate was replaced by a lower-ranking body and the “plurinational” character of Chile was recognized. The changes were too many for a society accustomed to the center and it did not have the majority support it needed.
Boric now intends to make a clean slate. But he needs to summon traditional politics, the one he vehemently attacked during the campaign that gave him victory. Any reform proposal must first pass through Congress. It is the deputies and senators who will define the profile of the new Convention in matters such as: gender parity, seats reserved for indigenous peoples and even the inclusion of independents. “The president has asked us to initiate a dialogue in Congress that will allow us to establish an institutional path for a new constitutional process,” said the head of the Senate, the socialist Álvaro Elizalde. “We have a second chance; It will probably be the last one,” said his counterpart from the Chamber of Deputies, Raúl Soto.
The Government has already outlined which is the constituent path that it will defend. Boric’s spokeswoman, Camilla Vallejo, said that there will be no entry plebiscite – the mandate of the one held in 2020 is recognized – with democratic election of the members of the Convention (that is, thus ruling out a committee of experts) and with parity, one of the flags of an Administration that declares itself feminist. It is a tortuous bet because the opposition parties, battered by the defeat in the presidential elections last year, now feel strengthened.
This Monday those same parties conditioned their participation in the process to the government, and the president, first making “a self-criticism” to “understand that the process of a radical left has been rejected,” said Francisco Chahuán, senator for Renovación Nacional. From Evópoli, another of the forces of the opposition right, the deputy Juan Francisco Undurraga demanded “a genuine reflection in relation to the cultural defeat they experienced in the referendum.” “We are going to honor our word, which was to give Chile a good Constitution and not the text that was put to the consideration of Chileans” this Sunday, he said, noting that there would be conditions.
The official self-criticism has not been public, but it will be reflected in a change of ministers that the president already announced in a speech on Sunday, after learning of the triumph of the rejection. Boric promised to give “new energy” to the Government. On the doomed list are two of his most trusted figures: Interior Minister Ikzya Siches and Giorgio Jackson, the minister in charge of relations with Congress and a lifelong friend of the president. The harsh reality of the polls will open the door to traditional politicians with management experience in Concertación governments that governed Chile during the democratic transition.
Political analysts are now trying to find answers to the setback. The debut of the compulsory vote could have had something to do with it. Four million people who had never voted have done so this time to avoid a fine. That electorate, which until now had stayed at home, does not trust politics or politicians and it should not be surprising that they voted for rejection. More surprising has been the result among the communes with fewer resources where Boric swept the presidential elections. “In the popular municipalities of the big cities there was greater competition between approval and rejection, especially in the metropolitan region, that of the capital,” says Mauricio Morales, an academic at the University of Talca. “The approval needed to win in the capital region by about 15 points and ended up losing by more than 10. The popular vote turned its back on the constitutional text. The polls showed that the poorest segments had high rates of indecision, but there was a spiral of silence there: it was a hidden vote for rejection, ”he explains.
For Natalia González, director of the constitutional area of the Libertad y Desarrollo think tank, the result was the defeat of “certain concepts” defended by the progressive arch. The voter did not say no to a process of change or to other Chileans, but rather he said, loud and clear, that this constitutional proposal – an Assembly member, which leaves the authorities without tools – is not what they want”. According to González, the Chileans ask for “reformism, not a refoundation”, as was the spirit that the members of the convention gave to the new Constitution. The ideological dispersion of the electorate also explains part of the triumph of rejection. The leaders of the conservative parties did not participate in the campaign and left it in the hands of citizen movements. “It must be made clear that this is not a victory for the right, which only appeared on Sunday, once the victory was known,” defends Octavio Avendaño, an academic at the University of Chile. “The rejection came from sectors of the center and center-left, who questioned how the convention was being conducted. They are sectors that warned of the risks of eliminating the Senate or the extension of the text with many weak flanks. Everyone had reservations, and that worked against the promotion of the new text”, he explains.
The promoters of the approval had problems transmitting the contents of the new text. Misinformation convinced many voters that with the new Constitution they would lose their homes and even their savings. The defense of legal abortion caught on among Catholic sectors and the recognition of the Mapuche peoples scared away the vote in the south of the country, where the Mapuche conflict over control of the land is burning. In Araucanía, the epicenter of that fight, the vote for rejection was close to 80%.
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