Expectations in the constitutional process in Chile have been fading over the months. The option of “Rejection” of the new constitutional text exceeds the “I Approve” in the intention to vote for the referendum to be held in September, according to various surveys. The last poll of the Cadem Institute, corresponding to the third week of April, places the “Rejection” nine points ahead of the “Approve” and places confidence in the Constitutional Convention at its lowest point since it began its work in July 2021.
Although 80% of citizens voted in favor of changing the Magna Carta, with the progress of the discussions, distrust and pessimism regarding the new text have increased. The frenetic pace to meet the deadlines, the controversies between conventionalists from different sectors and the dissemination of false news by the most conservative groups do not help to reverse these impressions in a large part of the citizenry, who observe the process from a distance.
The polls have caused concern to the new government of Gabriel Boric and to sectors of the center-left, who fear that the opportunity to definitively bury the Constitution heir to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet will be lost. “I have talked with people who voted ‘I approve’ [en el plebiscito de entrada] and that today he has doubts that cannot be ignored,” Boric said when the results were released.RELATED
“You have to give yourself space to reflect, to think, so that the agreements are broader than they have been until now and to modify what needs to be modified,” said the president of Chile, who considered the polls as a “call for attention” and ruled out that the results they show are part of a smear campaign, as some of their supporters said.
“Although the polls have been very poor in recent times, when there are so many pointing in the same direction it is unlikely that they do not reflect a trend; I would take this signal seriously,” says Chilean political scientist Claudia Heiss, in charge of the Political Science course at the University of Chile.
The disenchantment with the process has to do for the specialist with the lack of habit of the citizens to see political negotiations with this level of transparency and with the lack of a civic education campaign so that people participate in the debates.
For the director of the Tresquintos pollster, Kenneth Bunker, the polls show that the citizenry “wants a process for a new Constitution, but they don’t want the Constitution that these conventionalists are making.” For Bunker, there is a “giant gap” between what the constituents are drafting and what Chileans want, which ends up “favoring” the rejection of the text that is being written.
Obstacles and controversies
The convention in charge of writing the Constitution is in its ninth month of work, in the midst of debating and voting on the proposed regulations. The 155 constituents in charge of drafting them are in a race against time, with sessions until midnight or more and weekends included, to finalize the text within the maximum 12 months established by law and which ends on July 4. An ambitious goal that has sometimes been put at risk due to various controversies and obstacles that arose during the process.
In addition to the lack of leadership in the different sectors of the body, mostly from the left and center-left, members of the convention itself have acknowledged having problems communicating their work: “We must concentrate on informing more and better what has gone approving and what will be approved”, said the vice president of the body, Gaspar Domínguez.
“The convention generates so much information that it becomes difficult to order. There is confusion about the articles approved in commissions and those approved in plenary because regulations have been approved in a very piecemeal manner”, says Heiss.
The political scientist also mentions “open fights, claims and statements that produce some fear or mistrust” in the most conservative sectors. This was the case, for example, with the norm presented by a group of eight conventions and which sought to eliminate the three powers of the State and replace them with a “plurinational assembly of workers and peoples.”
The fear of losing the opportunity for profound change in the country is such that even from within the convention itself, warning voices have been raised about the risks facing the process. Other constituents, however, have downplayed the predictions and are betting on a sure victory for the “Approbation”: “There is no constituent process in the world that does not generate fears; it is its nature, but it is going to be reversed, ”he said in an interview Dominguez.
Till the date there are more than 300 approved articles by the plenary of the convention that are already part of the draft of the new text. Some imply a profound transformation of the State, such as those that establish plurinationality or the elimination of the Senate in favor of an institution of regional autonomy with low powers. Other articles respond to historical citizen demands, such as the rights approved in recent days in terms of health, education, social security and access to water or housing; or as the norms that install Chile in the international vanguard in social rights such as freedom of association, leisure and sports, sexual and reproductive rights or a dignified death.
The country will also be one of the pioneers in recognizing domestic and care work, gender equity and parity, the climate crisis and animal rights in its Magna Carta.
Impact on the Government of Boric
Gabriel Boric, who will be in power for two months, has been a staunch defender of the constituent process from the beginning, when the social unrest of October 2019 was proposed as a political solution.
The constitutional change is decisive for his agenda, as he recalled in his first speech as president since La Moneda: “We have set ourselves the task of enthusiastically accompanying our constitutional process for which we have fought so hard. We will resolutely support the work of the Convention. We need a Constitution that unites us, that we feel as our own, ”he said then.
If the percentage of disapproval of the new constitutional text continues to increase, the Boric government will not be left out of that blow. “A rejection of the new Constitution could be read as a rejection of the reformist model that Boric embodies and the idea of incorporating social movements and new generations and marginalized sectors of politics such as women or indigenous peoples,” says Heiss.
Beyond the immediate impact on the government, an eventual rejection of the new constitutional text would prolong the life of the Pinochet legacy and would put an end to the real possibility of achieving change through a democratic process pushed from the streets. The answer to the big question will be known on September 4, when the plebiscite will be held with a mandatory vote that will close almost three years of the constitutional process.