Constitutional Process NATIONAL

Constituents question the government’s role in Constitutional Convention

With a ceremony on Sunday, July 4, and a first session several days later, the writing of a new Constitution for Chile will kick off in days. However, several problems are yet to be resolved, according to a large group of constituents. Among other things, they decry a lack of funding and the government’s overall role in the process.

Just days before the Constitutional Convention in Chile will be sworn in at a ceremony in the former Congressional seat in Santiago, a conflict is growing between the government and convention members about the lack of funds, the inaugural ceremony for indigenous constituents, the security of the convention, and the very role the government is taking in the historic process.

Each of the 155 constituents, who will have nine months (plus an additional three if necessary), get a monthly allowance of CLP$1.5 million (~US$2,000) plus reimbursement for transport, food, and lodging. However, according to the constituents, that’s not enough. They want a bigger budget to hire consultants. According to Communist Party-member Barbara Sepulveda the budget deficit is in the end a “class problem.”

“There are constituents here who are wealthy people, who have many resources, with political parties with many resources,” she said according to news outlet El Dinamo. “Therefore, they can choose to have external advisors that they can pay out of their pockets. That is not the reality of the majority of the Convention.” Apart from their claims about the budget, more progressive constituents point out that the government is in charge of the budget, and not a convention committee, something they claim must change to guarantee independence.

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Indigenous presence at inauguration

A total of 17 seats in the Constitutional Convention are reserved for indigenous peoples, who demand more inclusion in the opening ceremony. Machi Francisca Linconao, one of the representatives of the Mapuche people, has demanded to be accompanied by her “zugumachife” and “yancan” – assistants with spiritual functions – during her work for the Constitutional Convention.

Aymara constituent Isabella Mamani has demanded to carry out a ritual ceremony for her people ahead of the installation of the Constitutional Convention. To be able to do this, Mamani said she will need to count on her spiritual “chacha warmi” –partner.

Other indigenous representatives have also asked to perform ancestral rites, and have demanded the presence of language interpreters throughout the constitutional process.

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The government has rejected all of these requests, citing the sanitary situation in Chile as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Allowing more people into the former Congressional building would be problematic due to capacity issues, the government says.

The indigenous constituents responded by requesting the resignation of the executive secretary of the Administrative Unit of the Convention, Francisco Encina, who is a member of center-right party Evópoli. Encina was appointed by the government and previously worked in the Presidential Secretary’s Office as chief of staff.

The government remains firm about the process and its role

The government has expressed its support for Encina, pointing to the famous Nov. 15, 2019 treaty that was signed amid the nationwide protests, by both government and opposition parties. The agreement, that set the stage for a referendum for a new Constitution, states that the government “shall provide the technical, administrative, and financial support that is necessary for the installation and operation of the Constitutional Convention.”

Nevertheless, constituents argue that the Convention should operate independently from the government. Earlier, investigations by news platform CIPER found that the government will need to approve the online transmission of debates by the Convention, and that the government has hired as security for the Convention a firm with questionable ties and  a security team that is led by a former member of security for dictator Augosto Pinochet.

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