Constitutional Process NATIONAL OPINION

The Constitutional Reform Express

After months of talks, lawmakers finally came up with an agreement on a new Chilean Constitution. But the text betrays typical sloppiness and includes omissions. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

It took negotiators 99 days to hammer out the bases for a constitutional reform – and they included some really odd gaps regarding the dates. That’s right. None of the supposedly experienced lawmakers thought reviewing the timeline was important. Curious omission.

Such sloppiness is characteristic of our politics. The parliamentarians who participated in the negotiations totally neglected that electoral service Servel said in September it needed 140 days to organize the electoral process for the officials that oversee the reform once promulgated. The original date stipulated in the so-called Agreement for Chile, April 18, had never been feasible, not even in the best scenario. The date has now been changed to May 18.

Also, the “expert” committee guiding the process was supposed to start work on January 16, but the date had to be pushed back to March 16 because the original one wasn’t just unfeasible but ridiculous. Nobody looked at a calendar and counted with their fingers if the dates add up. Shameful.

What’s the job?

Beyond these embarrassing omissions, our parliamentarians did also not bother with answering questions about the specific role of the experts. It’s not clear if their right to voice concerns and influence the process extends to a period after their work – as defined in the agreement – is completed.

The situation gives rise to suspicions that the party leaders were plotting at this point. Will the members of the publicly elected committee be able to change anything the experts wrote?  Nobody clarified.

First nation representatives were added to the agreement more as a decoration to preclude criticism of their omission. Initially five or six representatives of the Mapuche, Aymara, Rapanui, and other first nations were expected to participate. But the final agreement mentions three at most. In circus terms, this is a clown slap, because in reality first nations won’t have any influence.

The agreement also doesn’t explain the role of the technical admissibility council, understood to comprise 14 Senate-appointed jurists who’ll police that the eventual constitutional draft is in line with the agreement.

These fundamentals include a commitment to the national anthem and coat of arms. The council won’t have any problems with that because a new anthem and coat of arms were never contemplated by the previous constitutional convention; only fake news suggested otherwise. But these fake news fueled a panic and outrage that contributed to the previous draft’s decisive rejection and the totally unnecessary inclusion of this point in the current agreement.

The commitment to a decentralized Chile, meanwhile, is way to ambiguous and generic. How on Earth will they frame that? It’s curious, to say the least.

Constitutional agreement in Chile after three months of negotiating

Free stuff

Moreover, the negotiators didn’t care about the salaries of any committee members. Initially they didn’t stipulate remuneration, but it seems to me that a wage is not only fair but obvious. Why would or could any of the members work for free for months? It is annoying that some parliamentarians receive CLP$2.5 million (US$2,850) in public money to spend on gasoline, advisers, and other benefits but were asking others to work for free on something that important. By the way, the current minimum wage is CLP$380,000.

Beyond these shortcomings, it’s unclear how the reform bill would be dispatched within two weeks, which would be a national record and considering that some lawmakers already said they want a debate and modify some aspects. Can anyone believe that the far-right Republicans, whose 16 lawmakers did not sign the agreement, or the populist PDG, will simply applaud their peers and remain silent? Is it possible that independents – who were not invited to the talks although the elite-affine Amarillos group, which is not even a party, was at the table – do not make contributions or at least opine?

We’ll see if a record express constitutional reform will be possible. The Senate at least has approved the bill in principle, so we’ll see if a late Christmas miracle might happen.




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