The overwhelming victory of the “rejection” in Chile’s constitutional plebiscite this Sunday opens an uncertain and complex dialogue scenario between the Government, political parties and civil society on how the constitutional process that began after the 2019 citizen protests should continue.
The only certainty is that, with this result, Chile maintains the current Magna Carta as its legal framework, written in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and partially reformed in democracy.
Article 142 of the current fundamental text, referring to the constitutional plebiscite, states that “if the question raised to the electorate in the ratifying plebiscite is rejected, this Constitution will continue in force.”
“With the triumph of the ‘rejection’ we continue with the same Constitution and we depend on the will of Congress to continue or not with the process,” Julieta Suárez-Cao, an academic from the Institute of Political Science of the Catholic University, tells the EFE agency.
“Chile, like Spain, has problems breaking with its past and, in fact, its dictatorship ended in 1990. It is very difficult to move and change cultures,” Vijay Prashad also tells elDiario.es in an interview. , an Indian historian residing in Chile, on the reasons for the rejection. “In addition, part of the vote, although not all, is a punishment for Boric. Lastly, a lot of people are attacking the working class because it seems like they largely voted out. It is not that they support Pinochet, but that they are punishing the system. It is a vote against everything.”
A new process?
In July, President Gabriel Boric established the roadmap in case the constitutional proposal was rejected. “There has to be a new constituent process” – he affirmed – that will last another year and a half, and in which “everything will have to be discussed again from scratch”.
“We have to agree on how this new electoral process can be. Boric has already shown an openness with that, which did not exist in any way at the beginning”, explains the director of the Tresquintos pollster, Kenneth Bunquer.
In this context, Boric assured on Sunday that citizens have spoken clearly and announced that he had already summoned the leaders of Congress and representatives of civil society to a meeting on Monday at the Palacio de La Moneda to study the new itinerary and see how give it the fastest speed.
“Tomorrow the government can put out a message to call for conventional elections, but I am not sure that the necessary votes will be in Congress to carry it forward, so the uncertainty today is tremendous,” says Suárez-Cao.
Various formulas on the table
The weeks prior to the plebiscite, several alternatives were put on the table regarding the possibility of reaching this scenario, which was the most likely according to the polls.
Three weeks ago, Congress approved a rule that would facilitate that path, since it reduces the quorum from two-thirds to four-sevenths in order to make reforms in the current Magna Carta. In case of maintaining the idea of drafting a new text, the options go through Congress or a committee of experts for now.
Within the set of parties that have defended the ‘rejection’, which range from the extreme right to the center-left, there is no unanimity or consensus on how to continue the process or through what mechanism to do it.
The ultra-rightists of the Republican Party, for example, do not want a new Constitution and their bet is to reform the current one.
“In the coming months there will be an initial moment of institutional instability since, although there is an agreement that the Constitution must change, the mechanism has not yet been defined,” says political analyst and professor at the O’Higgins State University Juan Paul Araya.
In these definitions, Congress will assume a new role and it will be necessary to reach agreements. Although the group of right-wing forces has the majority, the parliamentary elections in November left a highly fragmented Parliament.
Expert voices agree that the result harms the president and his executive. “It is a strong blow for the first year of the Boric government, who decided to bet his political capital on ‘approval,’” says Araya.
“It will be very complex to implement the government program and maintain unity and stability in the government coalition,” he adds.
Boric played a key role in the signing of the agreement signed across the board by all political forces in November 2019 and which gave way to the constituent process. During the campaign he insisted several times on the idea that the process would come to fruition and even as president he has declared himself in favor of the ‘yes’.
“I have a hard time imagining that, after everything that has happened in Chile, we decide to go back to zero with respect to the 1980 Constitution,” he said.
According to Araya, the new scenario precipitates the need to execute a change in his cabinet because “it is necessary to reach broad agreements and there are members who have very worn political capital.” Among the possible changes, the Minister of the Interior, Izkia Siches, could leave the Government.