The state of Chile is at a crossroads: one path promising liberal democracy and the other to potential socialism. The choice is up to the Constitutional Convention, an elected body of 155 citizens equally made up of men and women. As of December 15 of 2020, “Chilean lawmakers approved a bill to reserve 17 of 155 seats for representatives of indigenous communities in [the] upcoming constitutional convention,” including members of the Mapuche community. The Mapuche are one of the largest and often repressed indigenous groups that make up only 9.1% of the Chilean population as of 2021, according to the CIA World Factbook. They are considered one of the most impoverished groups within the nation, with much of the Mapuche population living within the rural Araucanía region, the poorest region in Chile according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
One of these Mapuche representatives, Elisa Loncón, was not only selected to represent her community, but also invited to the constitutional convention itself, as she was voted to lead as the president of this event on July 12th. Though the process to vote on a new constitution that will remove the repressive constitution of Pinochet from the system is a sound practice that has been pushed for by the Chilean people for years, the act of rewriting a constitution is a risky and uncertain move that could change the landscape of Chilean democracy for better or worse.
As a growing democracy moves past the age of Pinochet, numerous reforms to the negotiated constitution have occurred, with amendments in 2005 aiming Chile towards a better democracy with amendments “…reducing the Presidential term from 6 to 4 years, reducing military influence in politics—by transforming the National Security Council into an advisory body to the President, eliminating appointed senatorial seats, and giving the President the power to dismiss the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces and the national police—and removing the current electoral system from the constitution in order to open the process to future reform,” (“Constitutional History Of Chile” 2020). In 2013, Michele Bachelet, a member of the socialist party, was elected to her second term of office as President, since her first term ended in 2010 and couldn’t have a consecutive term due to constitutional constraints on the office. Part of her presidential campaign promised to replace the Pinochet constitution, claiming it was time for Chile to establish a better democracy using a stronger foundation. These promises proved to be empty through her second term, despite many protests promoting the change.
In October 2020, millions of Chileans voted ‘yes’ to rewriting their constitution under President Sebastian Pinera’s administration and won by a landslide. According to Reuters, the center-right office holder said the new charter must include “… ‘the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come,’ he said,” (Cambero et al. 2018). The vote in favor of rewriting the constitution is supported by Chileans who want the new document to encompass more equality in healthcare, education, and pensions, as well as recognition of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous population and their rights. According to Reuters, “…The 155-seat convention of citizens will be elected in April and have up to a year to agree to a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority. Chileans will then vote again on whether they accept the text or want to revert to the previous constitution,” (Ramos Miranda, Sherwood and Laing 2020).
Hopes are high for this convention to further promote liberal democracy in Chile via pushes for better recognition and equality for the state’s indigenous groups, women, members of the LGBTQIA community, and other minorities, as well as fair access to health, pensions and education for all. However, as Chile’s rocky history with democracy has shown, there is room for error that could potentially dash these hopes. There are growing tensions surrounding the voted members of the constitutional convention, with members of the Mapuche community arguing whether Loncón, who has two PhD’s and postdoctoral studies in, among others, the Netherlands, should’ve been selected to represent them instead of Francisca Linconao, an ancestral authority within the community.
Alongside this debate, Rodrigo Rojas Vade, a key member of the convention and a prominent protest leader, confessed to his Instagram that he had lied about his leukemia diagnosis and about ever having chemotherapy treatments after local newspapers conducted investigations about his mismatched stories, a crucial factor that led to his political climb. Such uncertainties force the convention to begin reclaiming the trust that was lost by this member’s actions and to proclaim such a breach of trust as a one-off incident, not a widespread phenomenon within the elected body.
According to Bartlett, however, despite wanting to step down from his position due to this deception, “… there is no clear mechanism by which he can do so. Delegates are beholden to the same rules as Chile’s congresspeople, meaning that they are unable to resign unless severe illness inhibits their work. Rojas Vade’s exclusion will not affect the super-majority held by leftists and independents in the convention – where two-thirds must vote in favour of legislation for it to pass – but it remains unclear how a departure would be handled.” With this in the minds of the Chilean people who voted for these delegates, as well as those who refused to, the Constitutional Convention could be seen as another politically rigged elitist system that’ll sooner lie to the nation than do something honest, which could spell disaster for the newly drafted constitution, no matter how free and fair the document could be.
This is interesting to me because I was not aware that all of this was going on. I Found your point compelling that the decrease of presidential terms of 6-4 years is a sign of democracy as a limit on national authority, despite all the other problems the country faces. Moreover, all the questions they face about replacing the constitution shows that they are in such a volatile state. It seems that this country is in a very important stage where they could go one of two ways. The country seems rife with corruption, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
I thought this was included in my prior response but apparently not; my main question I would like clarification on is what you think will happen to the country in the future?-Do you think that they will overcome the problems they face and emerge democratic out of this constitutional convention? I think that the country faces an uphill battle as fighting corruption like this is far easier as a proactive thing in deterrence as oppose to retroactively solving the problem after the fact.
I actually discussed this particular question for my course on Nationalism back when this Constitutional Convention was still voting for their members, Caleb. My main scenario analyses focused more-so on the Mapuche community’s outlook, as they have been pushing for state recognition and benefits for decades. However, I believe that Chile has made strides towards a better democracy since Pinochet stepped down as president in 1990. The revisions of Pinochet’s original constitution were justified, with each change being voted on in a manner similar to this Constitutional Convention. Still, this event in particular is extraordinary for Chile, but it must be approached with caution. Much like the U.S., there will be lobbyists pushing for certain actions to be made permanent in this document, as well as the groups I’ve already mentioned: The Mapuche, Lower Economic Classes, The LGBTQIA Community, and others. Each will try to have their demands met within, and there will naturally be division and debate. Regardless, I feel that if the Chilean Republic is truly serious about this and wants to push for a better democracy for all of its citizens, this process will have heated debates, political discourse, and eventually concludes with a legalized document agreed upon by most. It will be very difficult, however, as we have seen protests and demonstrations take violent turns surrounding issues that will arise in this convention, such as Mapuche suppression, arson attacks, white-collar fraud, and the management of COVID-19 (and future potential pandemics) to name a few.
I also wrote my first blog on Chile and the constitutional convention. I focused more on the history and how the convention was a change from that history. I think it’s concerning the deceit that has gone into the delegate selection process but so far it seems to not be widespread. I’m optimistic that the new constitution will be fair and that people will vote for it, because whatever it is will likely be better than a constitution written by a brutal dictator and the people will realize that. However, I do think the potential lack of trust in the system as well as the lack of a resignation method. I don’t think that chile is experiencing significant democratic erosion. I think it’s likely moving towards greater democracy because a more fair constitution written by a more equal body (even if that body is less than fairly created) is still a step in the right direction. One of the biggest issues I see is that the choice the people have once the constitution in created is between the new constitution and Pinochet’s. There is no option to have the convention run again to write a new one or have a vote of no-confidence type thing that results in the election of a new convention to write a new constitution. This could cause the people to accept a constitution that they are not actually happy with because of both how bad the current one is and the negative stigma associated with it. If the current convention knows this, it may make them more inclined to try to write something advantageous to them that they people may not like as much.