SANTIAGO – Opposition parliamentarians presented a Constitutional Accusation against President Sebastián Piñera today. They aim to hold him accountable for human rights violations and endangering national security in the context of the ongoing social crisis. The Constitutional accusation will now undergo review by the Chamber of Representatives, and it is already generating controversy.
Opposition party members presented a Constitutional Accusation against President Piñera today, after an extended meeting on Nov. 18. They seek to hold the president responsible for human rights violations committed during the crisis, including those committed by the police and military against protesters and others.
The following parties signed off on the accusation: Communist (PC), Socialist (PS), Democratic Revolution (RD), Comunes, Humanist (PH), Liberal (PL), Social Convergence (CS), and the Party For Democracy (PPD).
Although it is too early to foresee the outcome, the intention is clear: to punish Piñera.
What is a Constitutional Accusation?
According to Article 52 of the current Chilean Constitution, the Chamber of Representatives (Diputados) has the power to investigate and level accusations against any political figure, with the vote of the majority of the representatives in office.
Political Scientist Javiera Arce told Chile Today, “A Constitutional Accusation is one of the legislative power’s mechanisms to control the executive power in specific cases. A Constitutional Accusation, in this case, can fall on ministers and other public officials, including the President.”
Hence, a Constitutional Accusation against a president is possible if he or she has committed “acts during his [or her] administration that have compromised gravely the honor or security of the Nation, or openly infringed the Constitution or laws,” as written in the current Carta Magna. The Constitution also says that such a measure can only be presented while the president is in office or within six months after he or she has left office.
After the accusation is submitted to review by the Chamber of Representatives, five representatives will be selected at random to investigate the case further. If the accusation is deemed valid, it can be approved and passed to the Senate by a simple majority of representatives.
If that happens, the Senate will then serve as judge for the case and will have the final say on the president’s guilt or innocence, by a two-thirds quorum.
If the Accusation is found valid by a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate, then Piñera will be removed from office and prohibited from taking any further public office.
The quorum rule is a high bar by design. Among other things, the two-thirds requirement is intended to discourage one side or the other from endlessly upending the oppositions’ officials with accusations.
“In the Senate, the quorum is very high and it becomes complex, we know. But we think the country’s circumstances warranted that we took these actions, and we hope other parliamentarians—both in the Chamber and in the Senate—can also see it that way,” Claudia Mix, one of the representatives to sign the accusation, told Chile Today.
Mix added that there also exists the possibility that a prosecutor might decide to continue the case further in another, non-congressional venue.
The Accusation Against Piñera
PH Representative Pamela Jiles was the first to propose a Constitutional Accusation against the president in October, but the initiative did not progress because of internal disagreement among the political parties.
The current Constitutional Accusation enjoyed much wider acceptance. RD Representative Jorge Brito told BioBioChile, “[The signing parties are motivated by] a deep compromise of democratic responsibility, that which Piñera has tried to elude … He has not wanted to do his job and has hidden behind the police, even the military, to deny democracy, abuse and kill many compatriots … [We presented this Constitutional Accusation so] Sebastián Piñera answers all the questions Chile is asking once and for all, at the National Congress.”
Mix explained the process of writing the Constitutional Accusation from scratch during the last few days:
“There was too much information … We tried to start simple, but each day more there was more and more evidence and background events. It took a lot of time to work on the final document. Also, in every constitutional accusation we try to get all political parties to sign, which did not happen. Some parties have said they will not support this, but this is why we think that we should not only read the document—which is full of very consistent evidence—but also read about what is happening in the streets and what the people asks for [out there].”
Government-supporting parties rejected the Constitutional Accusation, saying that it might only create more problems than it solves; others condemned what they see as unproductive hate.
Independent Democratic Union (UDI) Representative Javier Macaya told BioBioChile, “I think this is a symptomatic fact from those who have been from day one [in favor of] institutional breakdown … This Constitutional Accusation has none, zero possibilities of ending successful, [considering] the quorums required in our Constitution to remove a President.”
National Renovation (RN) Representative Paulina Núñez also added, “This is very bad news for Chile. Not for the president, not for our coalition, but for Chile.”
Other critiques do not follow a political line, but rather a methodological one. Arce explained to Chile Today the bigger picture as she sees it. “I am not saying Piñera is innocent or that he shouldn’t be judged, but we can certainly do this whole accusation later. From a political scientist’s point of view, this is not the time to be organizing [a Constitutional Accusation].”
Arce says that to start such a process now would mean more unnecessary tension for the political sphere, because “they will not have a two-thirds quorum for this to be approved. For that to happen, [RN] or Evópoli would have to vote in favor of the accusation. That is not going to happen, I don’t think they will ever vote against Piñera.”
When asked how these actions could affect other major bills and measures, like the Accord for Social Peace and the organization of the plebiscite for a new Constitution, Arce said that, based on what is happening in our country right now, we should not be surprised if bills, initiatives, and political intentions subsequently change: “We need to be careful in this time, where things easily push others constantly.”
Camila Huecho is a journalism student at Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco, currently interning at Chile Today. As a freelance illustrator and Fellow at the Melton Foundation, she works to bring information and cultures together through communications and art.