After the defeat of the constitutional proposal, political parties took over the process. Yet, parties and Congress are the least respected institutions in the country. But the contempt is mutual, as the public has been shut out of the process completely.
Chilean bipolarity is alarming. Having oscillated between strong demands and strong rejection for the last years, a tremendous paradox is emerging regarding the role of political parties in the constitutional process.
Managed by the parties after the Sept. 4 plebiscite, which rejected the proposal, the process is now just endless postponement, showing total contempt for civil society, even though a new Constitution was a key demand of the social uprising, in which, at one point, millions marched.
Where’s the contradiction? Congress and political parties are the least respected and trusted institutions in the country. On Oct. 25, 2019, millions marched, carrying the Chilean and first nations flags; any party flag provoked instant rejection. In the constitutional entry plebiscite in 2020, 80 percent of voters (at around 50 percent turnout) opted for a new Constitution to be drafted by an elected convention, flatly rejecting the mixed formula that included parliamentarians.
That same year, 155 convention members, the majority independent or representing small interest groups, were elected. And what happened to the political parties? They suffered resounding defeat. The Christian Democratic Party, for example, used to be among the country’s most important, but barely any of its convention candidates got elected. Meanwhile, 62 percent of Chileans rejected the proposal in the exit plebiscite. However, the right has tried to claim the result, which was a major diagnostic error.
Despite these developments – which occurred within just three years – political parties, including governing coalition members, have been negotiating unsuccessfully the foundations of a new Constitution, as well as a mechanism to implement it, for over two months. Where are the independents, the social organizations, the citizens? They have been completely excluded.
The talks have just confirmed to citizens that parties and Congress are useless. At this point, legitimate suspicions are arising whether politicians are really interested in an agreement. It is convenient for the right to continue without change, keeping the dictatorship-era Magna Carta, and for the ruling coalition, to wait for a more favorable scenario to move toward a new Constitution. In other words, delay the process and postpone the debate.
Albeit unlikely, if an agreement emerges in the coming weeks, party representatives will implement a formula to marginalize independents and civil society representatives, in addition to a tutelage system, which involves the question of holding an exit plebiscite.
The last few weeks have been very complex. After agreeing some limits – points an eventual convention could not alter – talks focused on the second constitutional half-time.
A six-month deadline seems to have been agreed so far, with elections of convention members eyed for April 2023. The body would be gender neutral and have to respect the limits. Contingent points still concern the mixed formula, involving elected and expert candidates, and the number of members. The ruling coalition has proposed 125 members plus nine representatives of public organizations. The opposition wants 50-120 members, while the Amarillos group – former center-left figures who opposed the original proposal – want 50 elected members plus 20 experts. No agreement is in sight regarding national lists and the role of independents.
Negotiations hit another roadblock when President Gabriel Boric’s Social Convergence party suspended a key meeting, which everyone promised to take part in. This was interpreted as a signal to delay the agreement. The reason? Lack of consensus within the ruling coalition and problems its partners in the Broad Front coalition have with the limits agreed. It seems the block prefers the process advances when public support increases. Paradoxically, right-wing Chile Vamos coalition and former center-left figures hailed the agreed points just last week.
Nobody knows where this will end, but when push comes to shove, our politicians will just say “we didn’t see it coming,” just as they did after the uprising started in Oct. 2019.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.