Constitutional Process

Historical In Chile: People To Decide On New Constitution

SANTIAGO – At approximately 2:30 a.m.  on Nov. 15, Chilean legislators reached a historic agreement for a plebiscite that opens the door to a new Constitution. The plebiscite will be held April 2020, and will ask voters whether they want a new Constitution and, if so, how it should be pursued. The announcement is one more effort to ease the pending social crisis.

A month into the social crisis that has gripped Chile ever since Metro fare evasions gave way to violent forms of protest, political parties reached a historic agreement that moves the country one step closer to one of the central demands of the current protests: a new Constitution.

This measure, pursuant to President Piñera’s “Accord for Social Peace and a New Constitution,” opens the door for a nationwide plebiscite.

The plebiscite will take place in April 2020, by voluntary vote, and will ask Chilean voters two fundamental questions

  1. “Do you support a new Constitution? Yes or no.”
  2. “If yes, what kind of body should write the new Constitution? A Constitutional Convention or a Mixed Constitutional Convention.”

If Chilean citizens agree on a new Constitution, the members of the chosen Constituent body will be selected in October 2020, during municipal and governor elections. A Constitutional Convention will be 100% representatives elected by citizens, while a Mixed Constitutional Convention will be 50% representatives elected by citizens and 50% parliamentarians.

The Constitution will then be written from scratch by the Constituent body, which will submit the document following a two-thirds quorum rule for constitutional agreement — this means that decisions will only be taken if 66.6% of the Constituent body agrees. 

If parliamentarians want to form part of the Constituent body, they will need to leave office and they will be forbidden to retake any public role in the following year. The Constituent body will have nine months to rewrite the Constitution. If they need more time, they will be allowed one extension of up to three months.

When the new Constitution is ready, Chile will get to vote on it in 2021, no more than 60 days after the draft is sent, this time by mandatory vote. 

The new Constitution will be effective after its announcement, rendering the previous one— established by Dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1980 — in effective.

This accord was reached Nov. 15 by the Radical Party (PR), the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), the Socialist Party (PS), the Christian Democrat Party (PDC), the Democratic Revolution party (RD), the Party For Democracy (PPD), the Democratic Renovation party (RN), the Liberal Party (PL), the Comunes Party and the Evópoli party.

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The Way to an Agreement

Originally, President Piñera’s administration rejected a Constituent Assembly. Opposition parties, on the other hand, wanted a citizen-led process towards reform. The government was focused on a Constitutional Congress, but it is unclear how it would have included citizen participation. 

On Nov. 13, Piñera gathered with his ministers, sub-secretaries and political parties from the opposition to discuss the Constitutional reform. The Communist Party chose not to participate, as Representative Carmen Hertz said, “For us, democracy means that the people can choose between at least two or three alternatives. Or else it smells … like a decision made [behind closed doors],” as reported by Cooperativa.

No final agreement was reached that day, and political parties agreed that the conversation would continue the next day. On No. 14, Senate president Jaime Quintana called Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, to discuss the different negotiations both opposition and government supporting parties were holding about the way to Constitutional reforms. 

Many meetings were carried out throughout Thursday, and, in the early hours of Nov. 15, all parties’ representatives (except for the Communist Party and some smaller, more radical opposition parties) had signed a document that would mark the way to a long-awaited new Constitution.

The Senate President’s words were reported by La Tercera: “This night is historic for Chile… We are indeed responsible for many of the injustices Chileans have pointed out,” said Quintana, saying that this agreement was a democratic solution and a “victory for the citizens.”

The decision was not without its critics, however, especially from the Communist Party (PC), which claimed that it wasn’t called to the discussion, and was informed of the final decision without its presence to account. PC president Guillermo Teiller said, as reported by La Tercera, “We were not convened or informed about the current agreement … They called us to meet when everything was already settled.”

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Opinions and Critiques to New Constitution

The plebiscite announcement, although marking a big precedent for change in social terms, was also pointed out as a necessity to keep the Chilean economy standing, after the US Dollar hit the 780 peso mark. 

Reuters also referred to these consequences, saying that the Chilean plebiscite announcement “boosted the country’s battered markets, with the Chilean peso and the domestic equities market climbing strongly.” 

Van Rysselberghe also referred to this issue saying that she signed the plebiscite agreement because it was necessary, saying that otherwise “the economy would [fall hard]. Therefore, although UDI signed off on the accord, Van Rysselberghe said she will still vote against the new Constitution in April 2020.

Telesur English flatly commented on the timing of the accord: “ the agreement among political elites occurs after the Chilean population has paid a high price in suffering … Through Thursday night, 22 Chileans died, 2,209 citizens were injured and 209 people had eye trauma as a result of police repression, according to data from the National Institute of Human Rights (NHRI).

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