SANTIAGO – As the plebiscite on a new Constitution approaches, political parties are getting into campaign mode. While some parties believe a new Constitution will lead to more freedoms, others believe it would upend decades of political stability and economic success. So where do specific parties stand?
Chile has never come so close to abolishing the 1980 Constitution, implemented at the height of the dictatorship. But as the plebiscite draws nearer, it has also become evident that this history is only one aspect.
In Favor of New Constitution
The parties supporting a new Constitution feel frustrated with right-wing parties which they accuse of making cosmetic rather than profound changes. Besides the current Constitution’s origins in the dictatorship, which many believe is already enough to abolish it, proponents of a new Constitution also criticize the lack of democratic power in the current one.
For example, in the current Constitution, Congress has significantly less power than the president, who, for example, has the exclusive right to present bills or financial changes. The constitution also prioritizes private entities rather than public ones in areas such as education and health, leaving many who rely on public services without options.
Leftist Frente Amplio coalition has pushed for the plebiscite on April 16, and has supported a new Constitution even before the October protests. The Communist Party and the Socialist Party have also swung toward a “YES,” even though they needed a while to define their position. Each party will launch their campaign in the coming weeks.
But the common goal doesn’t translate into unity. Especially figures from Frente Amplio believe the right-wing would manipulate the constitutional process. For this reason, the coalition initially refused to participate in the first quorum for the constitutional process. A scandal occurred when then-leader Gabriel Boric signed the first agreement on behalf of the coalition without its approval. Valparaíso’s mayor Jorge Sharp and 72 other individual members were so angry that they left Convergencia Social, a member party of Frente Amplio, causing a split within the coalition which is now struggling to regroup.
Opponents of a New Constitution
While a preliminary citizen consultation showed overwhelming support for a new constitution, Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party came out as the first major party to promote a “NO.” The party sees itself as the protector of Pinochet’s reforms, and so most of its members unapologetically claim the current Constitution has strengthened the country. They believe a new Constitution would represent a risky leap of faith. Senator Ena von Baer, for example, said through the current Constitution Chile had the “possibility to develop,” and that while her side had wanted to discuss changes, they now believe proponents of change are supporting violence.
José Antonio Kast, who represents the neo-pinochetist part of society and created the Republican Party, has already kicked off a social media campaign. Kast rejects a new Constitution not just because he believes Pinochet implemented a great one, but also because he believes violent protesters were blackmailing the government so even the debate is illegitimate. For Kast, any change represents political regression and an impediment to Chilean capital.
A majority of the president’s National Renovation (RN) party has also declared its support for the “NO” campaign, although the party initially supported a new constitution. It flipped arguing that the scenario is too violent to implement a change of that magnitude.
Although the right-wing parties have made their choice, governing coalition Chile Vamos – under whose umbrella reside UDI, RN, and others – has split over the vote. This is surprising since the coalition was a right-wing powerhouse in which parties supported each other, despite occasional squabbles among individuals. The first sign of discontent emerged in the wake of disagreements on reserved seats for women and indigenous peoples during the constitutional process.
Evópoli (or Evolución Política) started it all when some of its members raised doubts about a new Constitution. Luciano Cruz-Coke, a major player in the party, asked for reflection first about the potential changes and how they could benefit the country.
Every day more politicians are taking a position on the vote in April. Many right-wing politicians believe a new constitution would force Chile to have to start from scratch in reference to many legal procedures and uncertainty. The left believe the Constitution could be a first step toward more equality in the country. No matter what happens, at this point, the future of Chile is all but certain.
Bethany works as a professional English teacher from the United States. She obtained her Bachelors of Arts in English Education and Masters of Liberal Arts in English from Henderson State University. As well as a life-long Literature and Language lover, Bethany also dabbles in stand-up comedy on the weekends. She currently lives in Santiago, Chile where, in addition to teaching, she organizes bilingual events with The Chistolas, a comedy and event-management group.