Constitutional Process OPINION

Citizen Triumph and the Final Burial of Pinochet

On Sunday, a part of our country’s history began a process of definite closure. The overwhelming triumph of Apruebo and the constitutional convention has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. This is the end of Pinochet’s legacy.

Forty years we were governed by an illegitimate Constitution drawn up – literally – within four walls and signed by dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. And although it is true that it has undergone several modifications, the core, its base and principles remain intact. Hence, the massive demonstrations that took place since Oct. 18 last year had a common slogan: change the Constitution. Yesterday’s historic outcome – as important and exciting as the 1988 triumph of NO that brought back democracy – features a big winner: the citizenry.

This impressive triumph belongs to the people, to the millions of women who marched on March 8, to those who filled the streets and squares in peace since October 18, to those who forced the political class to hold this plebiscite and allow the 10% pension fund withdrawal – despite announcements of impending catastrophe.

The Losers

This is a devastating defeat for the most extreme right, for Foreign Minister Andrés Allamand and his wife Marcela Cubillos, for firebrands José Antonio Kast and Diego Schalper, government spokesperson Jaime Bellolio, and Independent Democratic Union party chief Jacqueline van Rysselberghe. These figures bet everything on the Rechazo campaign and the mixed convention.

But then, it’s also not the triumph of the opposition, which remains confused and disunited despite the government’s low popularity. And of course, this is a hard blow for a government that will have to navigate its last stretch with extreme internal difficulties. Surely, a split will result between the more moderate right – which comes out stronger – and the more radical one.

The triumph of Apruebo is more relevant due to the relatively large voter turnout, which surpassed that of elections since mandatory voting was abolished in 2012. Despite the pandemic – more than nine million people were still in phase 1 and 2 quarantines – and the fear campaign pushed by Rechazo proponents, which the government tried to echo.

Three Foreign Policy Implications of the Plebiscite

Heed the Result

The message to the political class is clear and forceful. Chileans want a new Constitution, and they want it to be drafted by democratically elected representatives that aren’t necessarily politicians. The worst mistake all parties now can make is trying to install their “faces” and ignore the popular will and the uneasiness toward the political elite.

Now, explanations and interpretations will follow, especially from the most extreme right, which on Sunday received a bucket of cold water and a reality check. This sector has been unable to read the population during a full year. The extreme right never understood the social uprising, simplifying it into acts of violence that in reality involved minority groups. Nor could it empathize with families that were overwhelmed and distressed during months of the pandemic and suffered from the lack of state support.

The first statements from the right, beyond the shock, and that the government has also tried to endorse, is that the fatherland, Chile, won and that there are no individual winners or losers, as Health Minister Enrique Paris said. But if the right wants to regain credibility and better understand the country it should start from the obvious: This is the worst defeat the right has suffered in its history.

Now What?

The democratic fiesta will continue for several days. This moment will be inscribed in the collective memory as a turning point in our history. A transition many claimed already ended years ago is now definitely closing. Gone will be the Rechazo TV ads that showed a non-existent, dark, conservative country, threatened by violence and destruction. A Chile in which the evangelicals warned us that those who voted Apruebo were with the devil.

Now is the time to look ahead, to think about the Chile of the next decades that has to face the challenges of the 21st century and the structural problems of a society whose political system and politicians are exhausted. It will also be time for all actors to try to understand today’s citizens and demand changes and greater equality. That includes social actors, minorities, and of course the business world that was openly against changing the Constitution.

The coming debate will provide an opportunity to collectively build a Constitution in democracy, which integrates all groups, minorities and perspectives, without exclusions or previous judgement. I believe that the critical issues on the agenda will define the type of regime that we need, starting from the distrust the current excessive presidentialism has triggered.

We will also have to assess the shift to a more social state after what we have seen since Oct. 18. We will have to take charge of the recognition of native peoples, of water as a public good, and of course modify the Constitutional Court.

But hey, there will be time for that; today, let’s celebrate.

Apruebo Won: What’s Next?

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