Chile returns to square one with the Constitution inherited from Pinochet, and now what?

After more than four years on the road, Chile returned to square one this Sunday after rejecting for the second consecutive time a proposed Constitution to try to replace the current one, inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The country thus becomes the first in the world to accumulate two failed constituent processes, with only one year and three months difference between both plebiscites.

The constitutional elections, in which citizens have chosen by 55.7% of the votes to maintain the current Magna Carta and discard a text proposal pushed by the extreme right and the traditional right, have culminated a process that began with the social outbreak of 2019. 44.2% have voted in favor of the new rule and participation, which was mandatory by law, has reached 84.4%.

“During our mandate the constitutional process is closed: the emergencies are different,” said the president, Gabriel Boric, at the end of the scrutiny. Although he did not like the text, the president avoided publicly taking sides on either of the two options, despite the fact that the parties in his coalition campaigned against the new text. “The country became polarized, divided and the constitutional process failed to channel the hopes of having a new constitution written for everyone. “Politics has remained indebted to the people of Chile,” the president concluded.

The long constitutional journey has left two failed and radically opposed attempts at change: the first, completed in September 2022, was approaching a progressive trend, and this second pointed towards a conservative turn. “Deep down, everything that has happened these four years has been wasted time because neither the left, at the time, nor the right, now, were able to generate a text that would appeal to the majority of the population,” he tells elDiario. is Jaime Baeza, journalist and political scientist from the University of Chile. “The majority did not feel linked to this process.”

Punishment of institutions

The long journey since 2019, which was lengthened by the pandemic and the call for a second attempt, ended up causing “disinterest, boredom and constitutional fatigue both for the constituent process itself and for the political class,” explains elDiario.es. member of the Javiera Arce Network of Political Scientists.

The null and blank votes in this vote (together they add up to almost 5%) more than doubled the figures from the previous plebiscite, and the excuses presented to the Police (about 350,000) for not going to the polls and avoiding paying a fine have tripled those of 2022.

Reading all of this can be interpreted as a vote to punish the institutions. “The political class failed to understand that what many people actually wanted, more than a radical change in the political system, was to improve access to rights and resolve inequality,” says Baeza. In his opinion, the triumph of the rejection against the new text does not mean “in any case” a support for Boric’s management, “but rather a rejection of the text itself.”

A “bleak” scenario for the Government

With the magnifying glass focused on the municipal elections next year and the presidential elections in 2025, the result of the plebiscite has given the Government a little oxygen. “He gained a little bit of room to move forward,” Arce says. For her, the Executive was weakened “whatever the result” by the dilemma that the Chilean progressive forces have been forced to face in these elections: choosing between a Constitution that they repudiated for decades and which they accused of lacking legitimacy of origin or stay with a new text considered by many “a setback” and “a loss of acquired rights.”

“Despite the result, the scenario for the government coalition is quite gloomy,” agrees Baeza. Faced with such a paradox, the left and the center-left are now clinging to the possibility of reforming the current fundamental charter thanks to a norm that was approved a year ago and that lowers the necessary majorities in Congress for that.

“The uncertainty that this process aroused has prevented the Government from advancing in its main reforms,” such as pensions, the new fiscal pact for a tax reform, or health, Jeanne Simón, an academic at the University of Concepción, explains to this medium. . According to her analysis, the new scenario, without the constitutional journey on the horizon, “could favor some progress or, at least, negotiate within a much safer context.”

In his speech this Sunday, the president already expressed his intentions to persist in the key reforms that, two years before the end of his term, have yet to be implemented. “I have ordered my cabinet to resume the legislative process of the pension reform and the fiscal pact as soon as possible; and redouble security management to win the battle against crime, drug trafficking and organized crime.”

Reorganization on the right

The leader of the extreme right, José Antonio Kast, who entrenched himself in favor of the new proposal, acknowledged defeat this Sunday and expressed his “hope” that with the election “a sad stage in the history of Chile will close” and also “the cycle of constitutional discussion.” An eventual Kast candidacy for the presidential election came out “more weakened” with this vote, in the words of Simón.

For analysts, the Republican Party, which he leads and which disputes the leadership of the conservative bloc on the traditional right of the Chile Vamos coalition, lost strength in favor of the latter. “The hegemony of Kast’s Republican Party ended, which only had a high representation in the Constitutional Council (23 of the 50 members) and which has a discreet bench in Congress (12 deputies and one senator),” explains Javiera Arce. However, for Mauricio Morales, an academic at the University of Talca, the percentage obtained in favor of the proposal defended by the extreme right, close to 45%, gives him room to “make happy accounts” despite having lost the plebiscite. “He gives him a minimum basis to face the local elections of 2024,” he tells elDiario.es.

Kast had assured that he could turn around the poll forecasts, which predicted the failure of the new draft without exception. This Monday, however, he had to admit “not having been able to present the important points of the text” and pointed out that “the divisions” within his own sector have also affected. The faction led by Senator Rojo Edwards distanced itself and called to vote against a proposal “for a socialist state of law.” The conservative seal, for the parliamentarian, was printed too little on the text.

In Arce’s opinion, now It will produce “a certain reorganization on the right” and the historic right coalition “will once again claim its space.” Everything indicates that he will do so through Mayor Evelyn Matthei, ruler of Providencia – a wealthy neighborhood in the capital – who is emerging as a possible presidential candidate. The closure of the constituent process opened the race to reach La Moneda, a possibility that the conservatives believe they cherish.

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