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.