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Gabriel Boric and the Chilean Constitution: from expectations to frustration

The “Agreement for Peace and for the New Constitution”, signed by the majority of Chilean political forces in November 2019, was seen as the only way out of the complex situation then experienced in the country. Months later, the constituent process began, and on July 4, the proposal for a constitutional text was presented, which in September will be approved or rejected through a referendum.

In the meantime, there were a change of president, the Chamber of Deputies and part of the Senate were renewed, many of the citizens’ demands gained democratic support. However, social peace – promised in the agreement of 2019 – remains the great absence in Chilean society.

The 100 days of Gabriel Boric’s government and the presentation of the proposal for the new Constitution are an opportune occasion to take stock of the last years of Chile’s political development. .

Rough start

“A start with turbulence”. With these words, Boric defined the beginning of his government. He had problems in the formation of his cabinet; he and some of his ministers made statements that aroused bitter polemics; little control of the legislative agenda has been seen and there is little cohesion between the parties of its own coalition, made up – among others – by communists, socialists and Frente Amplistas (a party similar to the Spanish Podemos).

In turn, the work of the Constituent Assembly was obscured from the beginning. The inaugural act began with embarrassed mouths during the national anthem and, weeks later, Rodrigo Rojas, one of the organ’s vice presidents and a member of the collective “The People’s List”, resigned after admitting that he had committed a serious fraud. After being unmasked by a journalistic investigation, Rojas admitted to having invented that he had cancer to stand out in public life.

The hopes raised by the new government and the work of the Constituent Assembly generated very high expectations, which soon became contrary. According to Cadem research, Boric arrived at Palacio de La Moneda with an approval of 50%, but in the fifth week of work his disapproval was majority, and at the beginning of July it reached 60%. Never before had such an abrupt drop in popularity been seen in the last rulers of Chile.

Something similar happens with the constitutional process. It began with a historic plebiscite, with the approval of almost 50% of the votes; however, the picture is completely different regarding the exit plebiscite: several polls from the end of June show that it has more rejection than support, and Chileans view the work of the constituents with suspicion and concern.

Impossible juggling

Many of Boric’s campaign promises revolved around a new way of doing politics, as he sought to regain citizens’ trust in the ruling class. His ethos soon found himself cursed by some concrete facts that revealed a darker reality.

Perhaps the most symbolic of his changes in posture is the one relating to the post of first lady, an institution that accompanied the figure of the president since the beginning of the Republic. It is a formal and honorary position that has a paid office to carry out social projects. During the campaign, Boric had expressly stated that he was going to abolish such an institution; however, when he began his government, he changed his mind and his companion took over. But the controversy did not end there. In the same week that he completed 100 days of government, a resolution was published that changed the name of the function, from “first lady” to ” Irina Karamanos”, the name of the president’s girlfriend. Shortly after the transversal criticisms, the government justified the situation by pointing out that it was a mere administrative error and revoked the name change, even though the president’s girlfriend continues to fulfill this role.

Another change in position that caused him a lot of political wear and tear was the possibility of withdrawing savings from pension funds. During his time as a deputy, Boric was a staunch advocate of guaranteeing citizens this possibility, but when he arrived in government and scaled the macroeconomic impact that these measures had, he changed his mind. This caused him problems with parliamentarians of his coalition; it lost credibility and popularity among the citizens, although it gained recognition from economists who knew the subject.

Another highly complex issue is the situation in Araucanía, a territory in the south of the country where Mapuche communities demand the restitution of lands they consider theirs and where some groups carry out terrorist acts. When he was a deputy, during his campaign and in the first weeks of government, Boric was against maintaining the presence of military forces in the area to protect security. However, its policy of dialogue was very insufficient to contain the violence of those groups, and in the end it had to declare a constitutional state of exception to continue counting on military support in the area.

This ambiguity was also seen in the condemnation of the violent actions of October 2019. Boric often refers to those detained in the burning of churches, subway stations, looting and other vandalism as “those taken by the revolt”, and one of his first steps was to drop the charges against them. Although he recently declared that violence is not the way to promote social change, the fact is that the government’s lack of coherence prevented it from stopping the increase in situations of violence, an issue that has become the main concern of citizens.

Rules imposed by the left

At the beginning of the constitutional path, there was the illusion of building a great social pact and a recovery of the political deliberation. The change in the Constitution originated in the Pinochet government was presented as the only way to solve the country’s problems and to carry out the changes that the citizens asked for.

Despite the desire to achieve these consensus, a sector of the left quickly took an attitude of revenge. If the right had imposed its model since 1980, it would be they who would now establish the rules of the game without counterweight, since they had the necessary majority. Thus, little by little, logics of identity were imposed, claiming particular agendas and extending the presence of the State in all spheres of life.

In the text proposed to replace the Constitution, changes were made to the the function of the State, moving from a subsidiary to a social model. This paradigm shift would ensure social rights and move towards a Welfare State. Although there is considerable consensus on the advisability of moving towards a public apparatus that provides more social protection, the lack of limitations on the exercise of power and the elimination, to mention one example, of the right to open, organize and maintain educational establishments, are worrying.

In the configuration of the government system, it is proposed to move from a unitary State to a regional one; from strong to attenuated presidentialism; to an asymmetric bicameralism in which the Senate ceases to exist and a Chamber of regions with few attributions is created. Without the balance of the Senate, which today is partially renewed every four years, the new distribution of powers could lead to a president ruling without a balance if he has a simple majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Another subject much discussed was the new configuration of the State as a plurinational entity. Following models such as those of Bolivia and Ecuador, with indigenous populations much larger than those of Chile, it is proposed to strengthen land restitution policies and reserve quotas in Parliament for indigenous communities, as well as give them greater autonomy and a system of justice, which would give rise to a legal pluralism.

The sexual and reproductive rights of women are also guaranteed: the proposal points out that the State must ensure, “to all women and people capable of giving birth, the conditions for a pregnancy, a voluntary interruption of pregnancy, a voluntary and protected birth and maternity”, referring immediately to the law for its regulation. This unprecedented consecration at the constitutional level of the right to abortion limits any future discussion solely to the establishment of deadlines and causes, and also restricts conscientious objection by seeking to guarantee the exercise of this right “free from violence and interference by third parties, whether individuals or institutions”.

Constitutional deliberation will continue

An interesting phenomenon that has emerged in the polarized Chilean political situation is the of the “Amarillos por Chile” [Amarelos pelo Chile]. This group of center and center-left citizens, identified with a color that came to signify moderation, supported the beginning of the constituent process; however, seeing its development, he began to warn about the points he considered harmful to the country, and a few weeks ago he declared himself against the proposal for a new Constitution.

Another statement important was that of former president Ricardo Lagos. During the government of the socialist leader (2000-2006), one of the major changes in the current Constitution: so much so that he replaced Augusto Pinochet’s signature with his own. On July 5, he stated, given the low representation of the new constitutional proposal, that he was “convinced that the relevant political challenge is to find a way to address the continuity of the constitutional debate until reaching a text capable of generating a high degree of acceptance by the citizens” .

On September 4th, Chileans will go to the polls to approve or reject the new Constitution. In either case, it will still take a long time for a pact to truly unite Chileans and that allows the much-desired social peace.

©2022 ACEPRENSA Published with permission. Original in Spanish.
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