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Chile’s Democratic Experiment

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Chile has been facing major social and political unrest over the establishment and development of their new constitution. The existing constitution for Chile was controversially approved by voters by a ‘plebiscite’ (similar to a referendum) in 1980 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The controversy surrounding the constitution was that it was designed to favour the success of right-wing groups in the legislature. Although there have been significant attempts at modernising the existing system, the faults are far too embedded for reforming it to be an adequate solution. 

Over the years, the right-wing majorities have paved the way for extreme policies that have resulted further in social inequality and extreme poverty across the country. A pivotal moment in the movement was the further privatisation of water. From the 1980s, water supply has been sold to private companies who aim to exploit Chile’s natural resources for material profit. This has especially impacted the rural farming communities of northern Chile who rely heavily on traditional methods of water management for their produce. This is just one example of the corruption that is rife in Chile and has caused the movement to advocate for the overhaul of the constitutional frameworks. 

A series of riots known as Estallido Social (Social Explosion in English) erupted in 2019 and placed great pressure on the President to commit to some form of a resolution. Hence, the President Sebastian Pinera proposed a referendum for the establishment of a new constitution in order to appease the people of Chile and to ensure domestic peace. 

Only a year later, Chile voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution with 78.3% approving of it. This move was hailed by supporters and activists as a huge step in the right direction but maintained that the people were to have control in the creation of the document. Another election was held on 15 to the 16th of May 2021, to elect those who will draft the new constitution. The results showed a significant majority in favour of liberal democratic parties and movements. Another win for the ‘Social Explosion’.  

This process has been regarded by many as a progressive and stable way of formulating new frameworks for governance. It will be the first constitution in the world to be written by a body with gendered equality and with representation for the indigenous people. The group will be meeting later this year to draft the constitution that will then be presented back to the people in 2022. 

Although Chile has always been regarded as a somewhat stable force in South America, it will now be paving the way worldwide for a new era of democracy. Echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln who defined the true nature of a democracy, a government designed to rule for the people, by the people. 

Is drafting a new constitution a suitable alternative to democratic unrest?

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