The leader of the Republican Party, José Antonio Kast (3i), poses with the constitutional councilors elected in May in Santiago, Chile. Elvis Gonzalez (EFE)
Chile’s second constitutional process, intended to replace the Magna Carta inherited from Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which has undergone around 60 reforms since 1989, entered rocky terrain this week. In the voting on amendments across the Constitutional Council, which began last Friday, September 16, the right maintained its overwhelming majority. The traditional right grouped in Chile Vamos has added its voices to the far right of the Republican Party – which has 22 of the 50 seats in the body – and together they have adopted controversial norms such as “the right to life of those who are yet to be born” , the immediate expulsion of migrants entering through unauthorized passages, institutional conscientious objection and tax exemption for primary residence (which benefits those with higher incomes). In recent days, various political sectors that make up the Council have begun to publicly express their doubts about supporting the text in the December 17 referendum.
This week, the critical voices of the left-wing ruling party were joined by those from center-left authorities who called for the previous proposal to be rejected and are now threatening to withdraw if they do not take a course of moderation. One of these voices is that of Democratic Senator Matías Walker, who warned that what the Constitutional Council is drafting is “far from” his vision of a constitution. “A constitution is not a government program or draft law. “The right is making exactly the same mistake as the left in the previous process,” he said, referring to the previous attempt made by Chile between 2021 and 2022, which ended in clear failure in September last year. 62% of voters rejected it and it was a resounding defeat for President Gabriel Boric’s ruling party.
The Amarillos Party, a non-governmental center-left party, has criticized some adopted regulations such as the tax exemption for the first home, but remains hopeful that these will be watered down in the remaining phases. “If that’s not the case, we just have to accept the reality and vote against it,” said Michelle Bachelet’s former justice minister Isidro Solís.
Former Party for Democracy (PPD) voter Felipe Harboe made it clear that the center-left party would not support a conservative constitutional text. “We have warned about this and will continue to do so,” he said.
The same red lights were turned on by the ruling left. Ahead of this week’s votes, former Socialist President Michelle Bachelet urged her sector “not to get upset and not to throw in the towel prematurely,” although she warned: “If the proposal for a new constitution represents regression in the rights of “women, I couldn’t vote for it. Former Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Boric Presidency, socialist Ana Lya Uriarte, warned on September 13 at a meeting on the constitutional issue of ICARE: “The text in force today requires an urgent rescue operation.”
Given the left’s warnings, Republican advisers must also avoid friendly fire. Around 200 militants of the far-right party, including Senator José Manuel Rojo, requested an internal referendum to establish a common position for the December referendum, warning that they see a majority leaning towards the “no” option among their party colleagues because of norms that threaten freedom and equality before the law. In any case, this party never intended to change the current constitution, but by winning 22 seats in the Constitutional Council in last May’s elections, its leader, José Antonio Kast, pushed changes that represent its core political strength.
This week, Kast addressed important issues being discussed on the council, where his party has the vast majority but not necessarily the final say. He even called a traditional right-wing consultant to get his vote. When the Constitutional Council finalizes the text, the committee of experts – which produced a draft that satisfied much of the political class – must submit a report with comments, which must be approved by 3/5 of the Council or rejected by 2/5. 3. If the quorum is not reached, a mixed commission would be formed.
Attention today turns to the question of whether Chile Vamos, the historic right-wing coalition, will distance itself from the Republicans’ most extreme norms. So far, with a few exceptions and only a few left behind, they have voted en bloc and thus maintained their majority in the Council.
In a column published this Saturday in La Tercera, businessman and economist César Barros, linked to the traditional economic right, described the advisers of the traditional right as “little lambs” of the Republicans and accused them of being afraid of losing negotiations in the face of… have next elections. Local elections. “The Constitution is not what matters: what really matters is the spoils that come, and from which we must make the greatest possible use, even at the price of a new rejection or a new Constitution with temporary consequences. “It will not even be close to the house for all that Chile Vamos promised before and after the September referendum,” Barros noted.
In the same newspaper, MP Diego Schalper (of RN, of the traditional right) assured that “the constitutional process is at a turning point, if it fails it will affect all sectors.” Schalper, who was involved in the negotiations, warned both Chile Vamos and the Republicans must assume that “if the text does not have transversality, it will hardly stay afloat”.
The prudence that characterized this process between the Boric government and the Constitutional Council has also undergone changes in recent days. After the Minister of Women, Antonia Orellana, criticized the adopted regulations related to reproductive rights, which, in her opinion, “would allow us to even switch back to the morning after pill,” the President of the Council, Republican Beatriz Hevia, said he escalated the discussion , assuring that he expects from the government an attitude of “informing citizens and not confusing them about what is happening in the Council.”
It was Kast himself who sharpened the tone: “The government is embarking on a campaign against the constitutional project by lying and misinforming and trying – with the support of the media – to divert attention from the adoption of important immigration regulations.” “The immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants is a radical change,” the Republican leader wrote on his Twitter account.
Boric, whose government took the risk of approving the text that citizens rejected outright in September 2022 (62%), tried to formulate cold words from New York: “You will not find an opponent in me. I want the Council to do well and for Chile to have a new constitution. “I don’t want any polarization and no mistakes like in the first trial.” After four years of uncertainty on constitutional issues – the constitutional path was opened after the social outbreak in October 2019 – the left-wing government does not want to deal with another failure that destroys the goal of a transversal political pact. In any case, it is not clear what the ruling party’s final decision regarding the referendum will be, partly because the text is not yet ready.
Meanwhile, more and more citizens are choosing to vote against the proposal in the referendum on December 17th. According to surveys, the likelihood of rejection has never been higher (57%, Cadem; 45% Criteria; 68%, Black & White).