Democracy in Chile: Is the rewrite of the Constitution failing? #Forum2000online

June 30, 2022

Is Chile’s Rewrite of the Constitution failing? Is Chilean democracy on the brink and the “Chilean Miracle” just falling apart? In this week’s #Forum2000online Chat, Marcel Oppliger, a Chilean journalist and editor at Diario Financiero, joined Jessica Ludwig, Director for Freedom and Democracy at the George W. Bush Institute in the U.S., to talk about the current situation and to try to answer these questions.

Mr. Oppliger says that the members of the Constitutional Convention, the body in charge of drafting a new Political Constitution of the Republic after the approval of the national plebiscite held in October 2020, has understood that their work was not to improve the current constitution but to completely “refound” the country. In his opinion, the Chilean citizens and their popular initiatives were ignored by the constitutional members. “They were not taken into account and they [the members of the Convention] decided that their agenda was the one that had to be discussed and printed in the draft. So, civil society just expressed their voice but that voice was roundly ignored”, Mr. Oppliger explained.

According to Marcel Oppliger, you will learn that:

  • In October 2019, in the midst of social unrest and violence, some groups, mostly related to the left, started pushing the idea that the way out was a change in the constitution, even though the protests had nothing to do with it.
  • After a political negotiation in November of that year, it was agreed to have a referendum on changing the constitution under the message that the current text is “Pinochet's constitution”. That is not true because it has been amended several times in the last 30-40 years.
  • In 2005, President Ricardo Lagos, who is a socialist, enacted important reforms and declared that finally Chile had a democratic constitution for a democratic country.
  • The referendum agreed in November 2019 was held in October 2020 and an overwhelming majority (78%) voted to write a new constitution. As a result, there was a subsequent process to elect a constitutional convention of 155 members, most of them ordinary citizens with no expertise at all in the legal field or in the democratic process. 
  • The members of the convention has understood that their work was not to improve the institutional framework but to completely “refound” the country. Constitutional experts warn that the proposal is radical and one of them said that it sends Chile “back to the 17th century”. Other experts say that the draft of the constitution, which declares Chile a “plurinational state”, is “a copy of the Bolivian constitution”.
  • Now, on September 4, a new referendum will be held to approve or reject the new constitution, but things have changed. According to the polls, a majority of Chileans would reject the draft.

The interview was recorded on June 27, 2022, and moderated by Jessica Ludwig Director for Freedom and Democracy at the George W. Bush Institute in the U.S.