The deadline for registering the lists to compete for the 155 seats to draw up the new Constitution must have left thousands of citizens quite frustrated. The uprising that started in October 2019 was carried by a demand for fundamental change. But now the same old players rally to define the rules of the new game.
Citizens took to the streets last year and in 2019 to demand a replacement of the Magna Carta that was imposed in 1980 by Augusto Pinochet. But as the process toward a new Constitution is underway, the opposition failed to reach a universal agreement. Hence, the distribution system implies, it will obtain fewer seats than the ruling parties.
The right agreed on a single list, even incorporating the far-right Republican Party, whose leader, José Antonio Kast, is a self-declared government opponent. Kast chided President Sebastián Piñera for his supposedly soft handling of the uprising that started on October 18, 2019 and the crisis in La Araucanía, which involves military responses to guerilla warfare.
This single list could create a paradox: Ardent Rechazo campaigners could end up dominating the agenda and enshrine their conservative positions in a new Constitution, although 80% of voters rejected these in the plebiscite.
Another lesson of the registration process relates to indigenous representation. Three groups could not meet the legal requirements, so an express law is needed to solve the impasse created by parliamentarians that failed to take an indigenous perspective, as native peoples have secured a right to a seat at the table.
A solution is also needed because representatives determined the constitution-drafting body must be half female and half male, but the number of seats – 155 – is odd…
Perhaps the weirdest fact is that contrary to strongly expressed popular discontent with the political class all parties run their main faces – former ministers, parliamentarians, and senators – to compete for a convention seat: Marcela Cubillos, Felipe Harboe, Carlos Ominami, Gonzalo Blumel are just four among hundreds that have moved Chilean politics for years. Where are the independents or ordinary citizens?
In this scenario, an extremely polarized constitutional debate is likely. The right could succeed in protecting the two-thirds quorum which would prevent many popular demands from entering the new Constitution.
An Old New Risk
Surely, that would be a hard blow to civil society which sees parties as the main barrier for a 21st-century constitutional update, adapting to Chile’s new reality. This development carries the risk of fueling another social outbreak, fanned by the mistakes of the political elite.
Although the ruling party is associated with the weakest government since the return to democracy, its ability to reach agreements must be recognized. But the players have also shown that the discourse around renewal and about the “social right” was nothing more than a mirage.
How else can it be understood that so-called reformers like Joaquín Lavín and Mario Desbordes have promoted the pact with the extremist Republicans who idolize Pinochet, don’t recognize human rights violations, and pursue an ultra-conservative agenda on issues where society seems to go the other way?
More Mud in the Waters
But not only the extremist alliance raises questions. Lavín said he will not run for re-election as mayor of Santiago’s wealthy Las Condes district because he’ll focus on his presidential campaign. That announcement took governing coalition Chile Vamos by surprise, causing some consternation. Immediately after, Lavín said as president he would veto free abortion – recently approved in Argentina – and euthanasia, for which parliament just passed a bill.
The statements revealed a mayor much more conservative than he had let on. On Twitter, the hashtag #OpusDei, the ultra-conservative congregation of which Lavín is a super member, was quickly slapped on his name.
And the opposition has clearly shown it remains in disarray, mired in total distrust and unable to reach basic agreements to face a historic and transcendent process.
Some vetoed the others. The Christian Democrats and the Communist Party didn’t want to be seen together. The main forces will compete divided and the once promising Broad Front left-wing coalition is experiencing a very complex process of disintegration.
But the worst of all contradictions, the most difficult paradox, is that those who were part of the 22% and voted against a new Constitution and even despised the popular will, can achieve a majority in writing the document.
What will citizens think? Are we incubating a new social outbreak? For now, it seems, most parties don’t care.
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.