Vote for a new constitution: can Chile rejoice now?
The Chileans voted for a reform of their constitution by a clear majority over the weekend. The current constitution was drafted in 1980 by the Pinochet military regime without the participation of representatives of the people. Its abolition was one of the demands of the 2019 social protests. President Sebastián Piñera has describe the decision as a victory for democracy and unity. Most observers agree.
Shedding the dictatorial legacy
“The new constitution could promote equal opportunities, hopes Werner Marti, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Latin America expert: The three key areas in which the protest movements have repeatedly called for reforms concern all Chileans: education, health and pensions. ... The principle of personal achievement is deeply rooted in Chilean society - especially as a result of the Pinochet regime. For many years, Chileans have been taught that personal effort is the one and only way to move forward. If social experience contradicts this principle because the playing field is not level and social security is not guaranteed despite performance, then the system loses legitimacy.”
Maintain the pressure
The referendum is just the beginning, Frankfurter Rundschau stresses:
“There are other questions. Who will be allowed to take part in writing the new constitution? To what extent is civil society represented? How many of the 1.5 million indigenous Mapuche people are represented? The Chileans will have to maintain the pressure. The elected representatives have been discredited. The right wing, because they have made themselves comfortable in a model inherited from tyranny. The left because in 30 years of democracy it has not been able to abolish that model. The people have now taken over.”
A risky experiment
As welcome as the prospect of a new constitution is, the chosen course entails grave risks, warns El Mundo:
“The procedure that the Chileans have chosen for renewing their legal framework is highly questionable. Almost eight out of ten voters cast their ballots for a constituent assembly consisting solely of citizens elected for this purpose. In such a complicated situation - a pandemic, a severe economic crisis and the violent outbursts of the far left - it is very risky to abandon the path of parliamentary democracy in favour of the complex mode of a civil society assembly in which lobbies wield excessive influence. The fact that the left is making efforts to take charge of this process points to traumatic divisions.”