Rejecting a second draft constitution - GulfToday

Rejecting a second draft constitution

The first draft constitution was rejected by the voters in a referendum conducted in September. The second draft was also rejected by the voters on last Sunday. Reuters

The first draft constitution was rejected by people in a referendum conducted in September. The second draft was also rejected by the voters on last Sunday. Reuters

Chile has been going through an interesting democratic process. Ever since Gabriel Boric got elected as president after the 2019 public protests, he has been trying to push for a new democratic constitution for the country.

A draft constitution, which was quite radical in its liberal leanings, with emphasis on gender rights, recognition of indigenous people, and focus on environment, was rejected by the people in a referendum last September.

This Sunday the people of Chile voted in a referendum against a second draft constitution, which was written by mostly elected conservatives, which made right to property stringent, imposed restrictions on abortion and on immigration. They rejected it.

It is clear now that the people are looking for a balanced constitution, which does not lurch too far towards either the left, liberal side or the right, conservative side.

There is indeed a sign of frustration among the people and the politicians in the country that the balance that the people are seeking has not been achieved.

What is interesting is that the elected politicians are not imposing a constitution on the people, and once they draft the constitution they are getting back to the people for their approval.

This is something that rarely happens.

Chileans want to replace the 1980 constitution which was brought in during the regime of Augusto Pinochet.

The Pinochet rule continued before democratic forces were able to reassert themselves.

But democracy in Chile had gone through pendulum swings from the left to the right. The people are rightly looking for an ideal democratic order which addresses the political and economic inequality that is plaguing the country.

President Boric said that the country got “polarised and divided” and that the process of drafting the constitution had not channellised “the hopes of having a new constitution written by everyone.”

He had however maintained, “What the citizenry is demanding is a better capacity for dialogue, of consensus, but most of all action.” He has also indicated that the efforts to write a new constitution would not go into a third round, and that the government will look at tax and law reforms which are needed to manage the country.

It is interesting to note that the transition to democracy began, however haltingly, from the promulgation of the 1980 constitution, and the first elections held in 1987. Changes in terms of democratising started as early as 1990 when Pinochet’s move to make himself a president till 1997 were thwarted through a referendum. The Pinochet-era constitution will continue to be the governing charter of Chile for now. Independent Democratic Union Party president Javier Macaya said, “In summary, Chile does not want constitutional changes nor re-foundation.” Claudia Heiss, head of Chile’s National University political science faculty, said, “The results of both processes (the two referenda) ended up being more radical than Chile was willing to accept. The political class needs to find a more humble and inclusive way forward which includes everybody.”

Chile’s democracy faces a lot many challenges, but it seems democracy itself is safe in the country with the people taking a stance on what they want from the constitution, and unwilling to make a compromise and accept a constitution that does not satisfy them. This is a big choice being made by the people of Chile, and it vindicates the democratic foundations of the country

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