SANTIAGO — In a historic referendum on Oct. 25, voters overwhelmingly opted to replace Chile’s Constitution. The vote, however, was just the beginning. Next comes the constitutional convention election in April, followed by nine to 12 months’ of drafting and yet another vote to ratify or reject the new Constitution.
In the highest turnout since voting became voluntary back in 2012, the Oct. 25, 2020 referendum’s Apruebo option won in a landslide, with 78 percent of the votes. This means that Chile will be replacing its existing Constitution, which was originally drafted during the Pinochet era in 1980.
The next step is the election of the body that will write the new provisions. The Oct. 25 referendum provides a roadmap.
Thus, besides voting on a new constitution, Chileans also voted on the body that will write that Constitution. There were two options: a mixed convention (made up in equal parts by members of Congress and others elected by citizens) and a constitutional convention (made up entirely by members elected by popular vote). The constitutional convention option, like the Apruebo option, won decisively, with 79 percent of the votes.
The body will consist of 155 citizens, solely elected to write the new constitution. A key requirement is that it must also have an equal number of men and women. As a result, Chile will be the world’s first country to write a constitution with gender parity. (Gender parity will be ensured at the district level: in districts that elect an even number of seats, the number of men and women has to be equal; in those that elect an odd number, there will be a maximum number of seats per gender, depending on the number.)
On Apr. 11, 2021, Chileans will hit the polls again to vote for the convention candidates. It will be similar to parliamentary elections, as each electoral district, depending on its size, will choose between three and eight candidates.
Once those results are in, a correction will be made to ensure that there is an equal number of men and women. The same could happen with indigenous peoples if Congress approves a pending bill to ensure their seats.
Convention candidates must be at least 18 years of age and without a criminal record. Once elected, a convention member will not be allowed to run for public office until at least one year after the body finishes its work.
The Convention’s Timetable
Once its 155 members are elected, the constitutional body will have nine months to write and present its first draft. If need be, the convention can request a 3-month extension. This means the convention effectively has up to a full year to deliver a first draft of the new Constitution.
The body will then vote on the new Constitution and require the approval of at least two-thirds of its members – 103 votes in favor.
A Second Referendum
An “exit plebiscite” will be set after the constitutional convention reaches an agreement. In it, Chileans will either reject or approve the contents of the new Constitution.
The dates can vary, depending on whether or not the reforming body asks for a deadline extension, but what is certain is that, unlike the recent referendum, this one will be mandatory and it will have to be at least 60 days after the proposal is delivered.
If voters approve the new Constitution, then the 1980 Constitution will be replaced for good, but, if voters reject the new one, then the old one will remain in place until further action.
Edited by Claudio Moraga
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant