SLINGERLANDS, New York — On October 25, 2020, the Chilean people voted to create a new constitution
after roughly 13 months of civil unrest in the South American nation. Half of all eligible voters turned up for the national plebiscite, with around 78% voting “I approve” of creating a new constitution. Nearly the same margin voted that this new constitution should be written by representatives elected by the people. A new constitution for Chile would mean clearly established and protected rights for the people.
A New Constitution for Chile
This marks a watershed moment in Chilean history as the current constitution is a holdover from 1980 and breeds resentment among the Chilean population for its symbolism of the bloody dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet
. Beyond its symbolic problems, Chileans disapprove of the current constitution because it champions neoliberalism over social needs. According to Jaime Bassa
, a Chilean constitutional lawyer, “social security, health, education, work and trade union cover is marked by a preference for private property and freedom of entrepreneurship.” Other concerns exist over the Constitutional Court’s veto power on public policies and the difficulty of changing the document itself. Any changes require a two-thirds majority approval in Congress. If a law does make it through Congress, the aforementioned veto power can simply kill or replace the law.
The Long, Bloody Road to the Plebiscite
Protests over the constitution, President Piñera and roughly 30 years of pent-up grievances began in October 2019 and promptly swept throughout the entire nation. Most of the attention, both domestically and internationally, centered around the often-deadly protests in Santiago. The death toll reportedly reached 27 lives
by December 2019 but numbers are uncertain due to the difficulty in reporting on the events. Thousands were injured in protests during 2019
and again when protesting resurged in 2020. A state of emergency was declared in every major city of the country and the national police force, known as the Carabineros, were deployed throughout Chile.
On November 15, 2019, Congress agreed to hold a nationwide compulsory referendum
, and Piñera, facing insurmountable pressure, agreed to the plan to hold a plebiscite in April. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vote was delayed until October 2020.
The Constitutional Convention of 2021
The results of the plebiscite instruct that another vote will be held on April 11, 2021, to choose representatives for the Constitutional Convention. These 155 representatives will be elected directly by the Chilean people and the convention has a stipulation enforcing gender parity
. This will make it the first constitution in the world written by an equal number of men and women. Discussions have taken place about incorporating similar rules of inclusion for politically disenfranchised indigenous groups, like the Mapuche, but have yet to solidify. The representatives will then have nine months to draft a new constitution
(with an option for a three month extension), followed by a final ratification plebiscite, likely to take place the following year.
The Future of Chile
Now that Chileans have made their decision, the arduous process of drafting a new law of the land will begin one month after the vote to elect the representatives. Reforms are being demanded primarily for social progress. Health care, education, labor and pensions are all viewed as inadequate or simply favoring private corporate interests over the Chilean population. Despite living in the most prosperous country in Latin America, many Chileans do not see this wealth because of Chile’s high inequality. Specifically, Chile has the highest income inequality of any country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Chileans protested, in large part, to scrap the legal system which left half the working population making, “$550 a month or less,” according to the National Statistics Institute.
However, a new constitution for Chile will alone not erase every ailment. The creation of an overreaching constitution or a weakened document with quixotic goals and no real teeth are both possibilities. The difference is that the choice now rests with the Chilean people.
– Scott Mistler-Ferguson