SANTIAGO — Just over two months from the constitutional referendum, different political organizations are about to start their campaigns. On Oct. 25, Chileans will have to decide if they want to write a new Constitution. Chile Today asked Javiera Rodríguez, who is part of a youth platform called “No Gracias” that campaigns for the Rechazo (Reject) option, about her group’s motivation.
Part of the sustained protests until the pandemic hit were demands for a new Constitution, which the government eventually met. Initially scheduled for April, the referendum had to be postponed to October because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many organizations have gathered to campaign for “Apruebo” or “Rechazo.” A right-wing youth platform, “No Gracias” (No Thank You) is campaigning for the latter option. Its spokesperson Javiera Rodríguez told Chile Today that “we realized that as a generation we had something to say. We came together to fight this cause because the right-wing was leaving that rather abandoned, the generational fight for ideals.”
The group comprises students of Universidad Católica in Santiago. It started with four members but grew and added members from other universities and cities.
¿Hoja en blanco? No, gracias👌🏽
— No, gracias👌🏽 (@nogracias2020) February 17, 2020
Why A New Constitution?
The promise of creating a new Constitution seems attractive, especially for young people. Rodríguez said the Apruebo (Approve) option promises that “you can get rid of some of the weight from the dictatorship or change the things that you don’t like about Chile. However, we believe that there are a series of societal values that are important to reestablish, such as democracy or being able to talk with one another.”
Rodríguez mentioned economic damage, uncertainty, and violence as reasons to reject a new constitution. She believes a new Chile should be built with dialogue and in a more democratic way.
“Approving a new Constitution carries a significant cost, which is to give in to violence and pressure, instead of sitting down to talk,” she said.
The spokesperson also expressed concern about potential institutional damage creating a new Constitution could cause, and she is worried that it’s unclear if it would really include popular demands like better healthcare or higher pensions. “It’s like promising that we can change Chile merely based on ideological issues.”
An Illegitimate Constitution?
The current Constitution was written and implemented during the dictatorship without democratic guarantees. Based on this, proponents of a new one repeatedly argue that the country needs to leave all the baggage from the dictatorship behind.
But Rodríguez said the Constitution has been legitimized by the people all these years and that it answers to a societal model that “has been quite successful and has allowed us to grow during the last 40 years.”
Additionally, it underwent various reforms and modifications. “If I’m not mistaken, about 80% of the Constitution has been amended or modified, so to say that this is ‘Pinochet’s constitution’ is not true. It is a constitution that has been legitimized in its use during all these years,” Rodríguez said.
Another complaint from proponents of a new Constitution is that the current one sets high quorums for the modification of laws. Rodríguez said this follows a certain logic that aims to protect important things for the institutionality and correct operation of the country.
“There are certain rules that are extremely important and, if we were constantly modifying them, they would not have any legitimacy. So, that’s why there are such high quorums or ‘obstacles’ as some may call them, but the truth is they are instruments to simplify the democratic continuity of the country.”
Apart from voting “Apruebo” or “Rechazo,” Chileans also have to decide if, in case Apruebo wins, they want to write the Constitution through a mixed convention (made up in equal parts by members of Congress and others elected by citizens for this purpose) or a constitutional convention, where all members would be elected for this purpose.
Rodríguez is undecided on the best option in case Apruebo wins. “I think what’s important, whether we have a mixed convention or a constitutional one, is that the space is protected so that we can rewrite a legitimate Constitution that is not born from pressures – which has been the tendency in the latest votes in Congress.”
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