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Chile rejects the new constitution: What was behind its writing and what does the future hold for this nation?

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In October 2020, around 5 million 900 thousand Chileans -a representation of almost 79%- voted in favour of initiating a constituent process for the drafting of a new constitution. Last September 4, in the Chilean National Plebiscite, 62% of voters rejected the proposed draft. It is contradictory if we compare it to the Plebiscite of 2020, in which a more considerable number of voters were in favour of a change. What was proposed in the new constitution that elicited such a high level of rejection?

“We, the people of Chile, made up of different nations, freely

nations, freely give ourselves this Constitution, agreed in a participatory

Constitution, agreed in a participatory, parity and democratic process,

democratic process”.

With this preamble begins the draft of the new Chilean constitution, rejected by 62% of the population.

The proposed new Magna Carta, consisting of 388 articles and 54 transitional rules, was drafted by the Constitutional Convention, a 155-member body chosen by the ballot box. The Convention was the first to include parity in the number of male and female Convention members and reserved seats for indigenous peoples. The plebiscite also marked another milestone as it was a compulsory vote, which led to a historic turnout of more than thirteen million voters.

The principle of parity -demonstrated in the drafting of the Constitution- was reflected in the proposed text, which defines Chile as an inclusive and peers democracy. The rejected Magna Carta proposed that women should hold at least 50 per cent of positions in state bodies. It mandated measures to “achieve substantive equality and parity”.

The new draft also defined the South American country as a Plurinational and Intercultural State. It thus recognised the coexistence of the eleven indigenous peoples and nations that inhabit the country. It proposed that these communities should be consulted and consent to the territorial entities on aspects that affect their rights.

On the other hand, it recognised the free, autonomous and non-discriminatory exercise of sexual and reproductive rights. Appoints that state should ensure the conditions for voluntary and protected pregnancy, childbirth and maternity, including the possibility of abortion. It contrasts with the 1980 Constitution, which explicitly protects the life of the unborn.

The current Constitution expresses that the state must contribute to creating the social conditions for the fulfilment of its inhabitants, but prevents it from engaging in entrepreneurial activities. On the other hand, the new constitutional document proposed Chile as a social and democratic state governed by the rule of law that should provide goods and services to ensure the rights of the people. Among its proposals was the creation of a public National Security System to ensure the right to a decent pension.

On the political level, the minimum age to run for the presidency was lowered from 35 to 30 and authorised one consecutive re-election. On the legislative branch, the National Congress, composed of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, was modified: it was proposed to eliminate the latter and create two chambers of power, the Congress of Deputies and the Chamber of Regions.

The resounding rejection of the draft does not reflect a refusal of change but the way it is happening. In the words of Cristina Manzano, director of esglobal.org and expert in international politics, “society and parties are willing to continue with the change of the Constitution, but not in the way it has been presented”. The text faced several criticisms inside and outside Chile. The Economist devoted an article entitled Voters should reject Chile’s new draft constitution. In it, it explained the fiscal irresponsibility implied by the approval of the new constitution. Among other things, it pointed out that the document was less favourable to business and economic growth, as well as entailing an excessive increase in the national budget due to the number of new bodies proposed. She criticised the progressive approach of the document: nature as a subject of rights, the word gender mentioned 39 times, and the functioning of agencies with an undefined “gender perspective”. Finally, he pointed to the functioning of the Magna Carta of 1980, which he did not describe as perfect -it has nearly 60 modifications over the years- but which represents a model of clarity: since 1990, the GDP per capita has tripled, and poverty has decreased.

As Chilean President Boric has reiterated after the Plebiscite results, the rejection of the constitutional proposal does not mean a halt to reform in the country. The rejection of the draft of the new constitution was a major setback for Chile’s president, who was in favour of “Approve”. In a message after the results announcement, he said that a new constitutional roadmap must be established in which the role of Congress will be paramount. Two days after the plebiscite, Boric presented the restructuring of the ministerial cabinet, with changes in the areas of Defense, General Secretariat of the Presidency and Social Development. The victory of the rejection of the referendum was the resident’s first major political defeat. Despite this, he maintains his democratic conviction. “We must listen to the people,” he said.

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