In light of the plebiscite on Oct. 25, President Sebastián Piñera seems to get more involved. He presented 10 proposals for a potentially new Constitution. None of them were really new – but that wasn’t the point.
President Sebastián Piñera seems to have finally understood that the important plebiscite in October forces him to take a more active role than he has taken so far. Although he said at first that his government won’t take a position, the truth is that as Oct. 25 approaches, practically all his ministers have already publicly expressed their preferences. Curiously, those who are for Apruebo (approve) have predominated in recent weeks, even as their parties continue to promote mainly Rechazo (reject).
Apparently, Piñera opted for the assumption that Rechazo, which his Chile Vamos coalition favors, will lose. By stating his preferences, he is now trying to prevent the loss from being completely associated with his government. Almost all public opinion polls have Apruebo at around 70%, meaning a change of the Constitution inherited from the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, although it also underwent several modifications.
Hence, Piñera took a bold step and presented what he called “The Decalogue” a new Constitution should contain. Although the text – only three pages – does not contain great differences or news regarding the current Magna Carta, it set up the agenda, forcing the opposition – even his ruling National Renewal party – to respond and accept Piñera’s proposal as reference. Piñera signaled to the right-wing that it is better to get involved and put up the ideological fight during the drafting of the new Constitution instead of wasting energy in the campaign.
Among some points the president highlights are the role of the state (“Chile must be a democratic republic with the rule of law, in which the state is more supportive and is at the service of the people”); the family, which would be “the fundamental nucleus of society and the state must protect the preferential right and duty of parents to educate their children;” civil and political rights as the state has “the duty…to respect and promote human rights. Guarantee the equality of all before the law and protection against any discrimination or abuse;” and economic, social and cultural rights. Education “must be compulsory and financed by a free system, up to secondary education. People have the right to open educational establishments and parents the right to choose the establishment for their children.” He also promoted an inclusive and diverse society, public order, the environment, separation of state powers, transparency, and decentralization.
It is a simple declaration of headlines. Overall, it does not contain a comma different from what is in the Constitution already. Undoubtedly, the president’s objective was to set the tone, but especially to reinforce the point that one must start from what is already there and not from zero, contrary to the popular interpretation of the transversal agreement of last November that led to the plebiscite.
A Good Move – But Good Enough?
However, the proposal does not address any structural changes that have been subject to public and political debates from October last year. Among them is the change from the “hyper” presidential regime to a semi-presidential one, the role of the Constitutional Court – which has turned into something like a fifth power – and the change from a subsidiary state to a European-style social state. He also did not mention the role of the state as defender of its citizens.
Without a doubt, the political agenda begins to shift to the two options available under which a new Constitution would be drafted. Under the Mixed option 50% of parliamentarians and 50% of especially elected representatives would draft the document while under a Constituent Assembly all drafters would be elected by popular vote. And of course, the content of the Magna Carta also becomes more important.
Piñera has moved forward and, again, forced the opposition to just react. The opposition is in such disarray that it could not even mount a single unified campaign group for Apruebo. And well, it does not seem to be campaigning at all, unlike the parties that are for Rechazo. This is excessive confidence, similar to that of former president Ricardo Lagos when he almost lost the 1999 election to Joaquín Lavín.
Given this shortsightedness, Piñera could still turn the plebiscite into his success.
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.