Constitutional Process NATIONAL OPINION

The Chilean right’s plebiscite conundrum

Complicated months lie ahead. Polls suggest the new Constitution could be rejected in the September plebiscite. Right-wing leaders campaigning against the text are aware they could fuel a reversal of this trend if they show their faces.

On May 17, the Constituent Convention delivered the first draft of the new Constitution, which will be voted in an exit plebiscite on Sept. 4. While the rechazo (reject) and apruebo (approve) options were polled more or less at the same level for a long time, the former has gained a significant advantage in recent weeks.

But polls also show the apruebo option has bottomed out, while preference for rechazo is declining. Recently, polling firm Cadem, which despite many methodological shortcomings still serves as reference due to consistent periodicity, showed a rise of 3 percentage points among respondents in favor of the new text and a decrease of 2 percentage points among those who are against.

Clear sky

This change stems from fewer controversies seeing the light of day as the Convention entered its final phase about three weeks ago. The plenary also reviewed and toned down or rejected controversial proposals that were approved in the committees and hyped up in the right wing-dominated press. Copper and lithium nationalization were taken off the table, for example.

To the extent that the Convention began to clear out uncertainties, the circulation of fake news – orchestrated by rechazo supporters – slowed, and Convention members focused more on work and less on declarations and poor media appearances. Citizens then could take a clearer look at the draft, containing 499 articles, compared to 143 of the current Constitution, which was signed by Augusto Pinochet. True, the text was changed many times, especially during the Ricardo Lagos administration, but it still bears the mark of original sin.

The polls will likely change from now on. Having a concrete preliminary text, citizens will be able to form more informed opinions and fierce social media campaigns won’t have the same impact. The definitive version will be presented on July 4 and include recommendations from the harmonization and transition committees.

Read more:

Convention finishes first draft of new Constitution

Reputation counts

It is also likely that the undecided will opt for apruebo. It is one thing to disagree with some articles but another to align with the far-right Republican Action party, which wants to maintain the Pinochet Constitution and opposed the new one from the start.

The Convention also learned. Knowing about its image problems, it carefully managed its tour to the north of the country, where it presented the draft and analyzed it with different social groups.

Crucially, on Sept. 4, citizens will be called to vote on the Constitution in general, not individual articles or Convention members. It’s also clear that, if approved, implementation will last two years, plus a long adaptation period with transitional rules and complementary laws.

Just as you and I are not 100% satisfied with our work, our home, or even relationships, neither do we vote being totally in agreement with a candidate’s program. We vote in general.

The Republican Action party, led by senator Rojo Edwards, was the first to reject the text, even in its draft form. Although this position was expected – they campaigned for rechazo in the first plebiscite – the party broke the agreement with other right-wing parties to avoid rejecting directly. The right plans to use only social organizations and the fringe in their campaign because they know once prominent right-wing faces appear, the center and center-left will assume a reactive position against the anti-change right. Natural alignments will occur in the polarized environment we’ll see until Sept. 4.

But even UDI party, which still praises Pinochet, has been extremely cautious and avoided negative comments on the draft. In addition, the right knows about the polls’ unreliability. Cadem predicted a tie in the first plebiscite, which, however, ended with 80% of voters opting for a Constitutional Convention.

The Chilean right will have to face the worst of paradoxes. Try to convince citizens that it is willing to modify the Constitution which it has always blocked – and keep their leaders silent to avoid a surge of the apruebo vote.

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