Constitutional Process

Why did the proposed new constitution go down in flames?

The reasons behind the sweeping victory of Rechazo in the constitutional referendum are as numerous as the implications for the progressive sector in Chile. Politicians, especially those campaigning for Apruebo, still struggle to understand what caused the defeat. Those on the losing side agree on one thing: they lost a historic opportunity to change their country.

There was disbelief at the Apruebo command center on Sunday night. As soon as votes started coming in, it became clear that Rechazo had dashed their hopes for a new constitution. Over 62 percent voted against the proposed document, a clear sign that Chileans strongly disagreed with its proposals. But there’s more behind the defeat of Apruebo.

Chile was fed up with the violence that some protesters continued months after the estallido in 2019. The subsequent rise in crime, which the Piñera administration arguably mismanaged, the disastrous consequences of the pandemic, and the high inflation in Chile: the social uprising was blamed for all of it. In short: Chile today is not the Chile it was in 2019, when even uptown Santiago marched for a more equal system.

In addition, for the first time in years, voting was mandatory. Many people who lost faith in their authorities after years of political corruption and shady games, were forced to head to the polls. This silent majority, a phenomenon surveys and analysts still struggle to understand, voted largely against the proposal. This group of people might also have been influenced by the mass fake news campaigns by the Rechazo camp and the tendentious reporting from several traditional media. Dirty games were played ahead of this referendum.

President Boric: ‘The people were not satisfied with this proposal’ 

Constitutional Convention didn’t do its job

But self-reflection and self-criticism is what matters the most after this electoral earthquake. From day one, the Constitutional Convention simply wasn’t up to the task. The main constituents lacked political experience and often came from the protest movement that changed the country. These were originally selling points, but only carried the assembly so far as it increasingly became a political show, often scandalous, many times negative: constituents seemingly weren’t always aware of the fact they were participating in a historic process and were meant to write a constitution for all Chileans.

This attitude was reflected in their proposals. Yes, Chileans marched for stronger social rights and less inequality; but, no, rights such as the right to abortion were not a priority for the electorate, especially considering Chile is and will remain a conservative country that only seeks progress as long as it is moderate.

The problems run even deeper than the Convention, however. Frente Amplio, the political movement that has experienced many historic victories, still proves to be a beacon of instability, a synonym for political arrogance and privilege. On the wings of the estallido and further helped along by the sweeping victory of Gabriel Boric in the presidential election, the movement thought political consensus was a thing of the past. Something old politicians sought. How painful reality can be. Governing and electoral victories aren’t possible without allies, without political agreements. Within the Convention and within Congress, also through the Boric government with Chief of Staff Giorgio Jackson as main instigator, the progressive left went its own course and barely sought negotiation with other sectors.

Yes, nearly 80 percent of those who voted back in 2020 opted for a new Constitution, but half of the electorate didn’t show up; and, yes, Boric defeated his political rival José Antonio Kast in 2021, but without the explicit support of the ex-Concertación and the Christian Democrats this wouldn’t have been possible.

In the weeks to come, the president will need to seek the help of those same sectors that helped him get elected. His political project will need a new direction, more moderate and focused on cooperation with the center and even the right. This also means a reshuffling in his cabinet: apart from Giorgio Jackson, Interior Minister Izkia Siches and several other ministers are expected to resign this week. What happens to the future constitutional process is up to dealmaker Boric: he needs to show his leadership, show he governs for all Chileans and keep his political sector together, especially those who thought Ñuñoa was Chile.

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