As Chile’s Constitutional Convention gets to work, a look at its members’ trajectories is in order. Curiously, the Convention is much more diverse than Congress and better reflects the diversity of Chilean society. Most of the groups’ members also have higher education degrees and professional experience outside politics.
By Claudio Fuentes S., Universidad Diego Portales and Plataforma Contexto (www.plataformacontexto.cl)
Much has been written about the make-up of the convention that will draw up the new Constitution. It is a body with an equal gender composition (49.7% women/50.3% men), in which lawyers (44%), teachers (12.3%), and engineers (7.8%) are the dominant professions. This is a highly educated group, of which 88.4% have a university degree while 25% of constituent representatives have master’s degrees and 9% have PhDs.
The majority (58.7%) were born outside of Santiago. While 17 are representatives of indigenous peoples elected via reserved seats, an additional four representatives self-identify as indigenous, making a total of 13.5% of indigenous representation in the Convention. Additionally, eight (5.1%) elected representatives define themselves as LGBTQ+. Of the total number of constituent representatives, 105 (67.7%) do not belong to any political party, although 40 ran on party-sponsored lists. All in all, it is the highest number of non-party members in a collegiate elected body in the history of Chile.
Although these numbers reflect a representative body with high socio-demographic diversity, they do not tell us much about the trajectories of those who were elected to the Convention. What follows is an analysis of the trajectories of the constituents based on information from public sources. I and my colleagues identified variables such as education, party membership, age, place of birth, studies, ethnic self-identification, main job at the time of being elected, previous positions of popular representation, and participation in state organisms.
With the information gathered, we were able to identify certain recurring trajectories of the representatives. We believe that this overview helps to better characterize and understand this collegiate body.
From social activism to the constituent convention
About 42% of constituents fall into the activism category. We identified someone as a social activist when their biography indicates explicit involvement in a social organization of a territorial nature. These are people who have worked intensely in their respective territories promoting or defending causes related to the environment, human rights, water rights, trade unionism, feminism, indigenous and cultural rights, among others.
In this group there is a higher prevalence of professions unrelated to the legal profession, although it is still the predominant profession. In addition, this group has a slightly higher than average prevalence of postgraduate studies. The average age of this segment is 41 years, somewhat lower than the average age of Convention members (45 years). About 80% do not belong to any political party and 61.5% are women. Finally, 26% of this group’s members had some experience of high school or university student leadership, which speaks of a trajectory of activism.
Experience in public service
A second characteristic of a significant number of constituent representatives is that at some point they have worked in the public sector, either at the local or regional level in a municipality, regional government or regional ministerial secretariat; or at the national level, as an adviser or ministerial authority. This experience have 26.4% of the constituents and half of these gained their experience at the regional level. Obviously, this trajectory is more common with members of political parties (63.4%) and half belong to right-wing parties. Lawyers (56%) and constituent representatives from regions (66%) dominate in this segment.
Social commitment and recognition associated with professions
Another interesting trajectory to highlight is when the constituent representative’s profession becomes particularly relevant in the convention member’s biography and recognition within the community (32.2%). We refer here to cases where, for example, a lawyer becomes known in his or her district or region for cases he or she has litigated to the benefit of the community; teachers, including indigenous educators, who are well-known and respected; doctors or scientists who carry out work that impacts communities; people from the cultural sector, and academics in the field of law. Most of these are non-party members from regions.
A subgroup covers professionals who have become well-known in the media. They have acquired certain notoriety through media appearances, usually speaking on their respective areas or expertise (7% of all constituent representatives).
From popular representation to the Constitutional Convention
In 20 cases (13.5%), members have a history of popular representation. Positions have been at the national level (8), and at the local level (12). They are mostly members of political parties, the majority are men, and their average age is 53, eight years above the general average. They are mostly from regions.
Activism during the social protests
Five (3.2%) constituent representatives emerged from the protests of late 2019. These individuals belong to the Lista del Pueblo and are often younger than the average constituent representative. Most of them are from the Metropolitan region.
From the business world to the constitutional convention
Finally, eight representatives (5.1%) are business leaders, all belonging to the Chile Vamos coalition. These tend to be 10 years older than the average age and present a certain balance in terms of gender and territorial origin. Here, careers not associated with law are predominant.
Constituent representatives rarely have followed only one of the trajectories. Many have experience in social, intellectual, professional involvement and activism. For example, 30% of convention candidates that gained popularity through their professions, also stand out for social activism, participating in particular organizations or promoting specific causes.
Similarly, 50% of those who have an academic trajectory have also been involved in social activism, promoting specific causes, joining groups or participating in social or political movements.
On the other hand, 43% of those who have held a position of popular representation have also had some type of experience in public administration.
This trajectory analysis provides a good overview of the Convention’s rather unique composition, compared to traditional structures of representative power. In organisms such as Congress, men from the Metropolitan region, who are members of political parties and have had experience in public administration, have traditionally predominated.
The Constitutional Convention is unique not only because of the low number of representatives who belong to political parties, but also because of the greater participation of women and indigenous people. Its representatives are also more diverse in terms of professions. The convention combines trajectories of recent social activism, experience in the public sector, positions of popular representation, experience from the professional and business world and activism during the social uprising.
Its diversity is not only related to socio-demographic factors, but also to life experiences that will define the interaction of this group in the coming months.
Claudio Fuentes is a political scientist teaching at the Universidad Diego Portales. He is a PhD in Political Sciences at the University of North Carolina, won the prize for the best doctoral thesis awarded by the American Political Science Association (APSA) and is a Luksic Fellow at Harvard University (2011). He was a member of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Advisory Council (2015). He is an associate researcher at the Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies (CIIR) and coordinates the Constitutional Laboratory at the UDP.