Chile: the implosion of post-transition politics and the danger on the way to the new Constitution – 21/05/2021 – Latinoamérica21

The election of voters is the product of a cross-party agreement, after the country witnessed the social explosion of October 2019 – a series of street protests with a heavy dose of violence. The first stage of the agreement was the holding of a plebiscite where, by an overwhelming majority, with almost 80% support – but with a 50% turnout -, the citizens chose to support a new constitution drafted by a constituent convention, the members of which were finally elected. during the weekend. The social explosion forced the country to discuss its politics and institutional architecture and left the old Chilean system, elitist, technocratic and, in a sense, aristocratic in check.

We have argued for many years that Chile does not have an institutional framework prepared for times of stress. It has an institutionality designed for success, but if there is no success, things get complicated. It does not have the necessary buffers to absorb the blows, some of which are the product of its own success: more demands, more debt, more inequalities. If we add to that a social, political, economic and public health crisis like the one we are going through, in a context of a creeping legitimacy deficit, the trigger could have been anything.


When the political leadership convinced itself that with repression it was incapable of controlling the movement and the social explosion, it had no other choice but to open up to new faces, to accept the “People” and empowering ordinary people to make decisions. So much so that we opted for a Constituent Convention with gender parity and representation of indigenous peoples, which ten years ago would have looked like science fiction.

If the whole process is successful, it would be the first time in the history of a country where the Constitution was drafted by a body that was essentially balanced between women and men. This moment of democratization deserves to be celebrated.

However, there is a risk of any sudden change. Inexperience and the lack of gradualism are a huge risk. Interestingly, 80% of the applicants ran for the first time and almost half were under 40. Moreover, this scenario becomes more complex when the results show a country that is much more fragmented, less participatory and fluid than the vast majority of analysts estimated.

Although much of the process was sparked by strong frustration with the current institutionality and its “traditional political class,” parties played a leading role in nominating the constituent candidates. These have been grouped into three major coalitions: Vamos por Chile (the current government coalition, which occupies the arc that goes from center-right to right), the Apruebo List (essentially the heir to the old Concert , which occupies the center and the central left space) and Apruebo Dignidad (left, mainly composed of the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio coalition).

There were other groups with a different ideological tone, but whose vote was lower. And, in a somewhat unusual decision, the electoral law allowed the association of independents on instrumental lists without the need for a technical break. This decision had a strong impact on the results.


The elections went off without major clashes. In general terms, the big loser has been the traditional party system that has ruled Chile since the democratic transition.

The government played very badly, almost as bad as the old Concert, which came in fourth place, overtaken by Vamos por Chile (government coalition), Lista del Pueblo (independent candidates) and Abruebo Dignidad (Partido Comunista e Frente Wide).

The big winners of the day were the independents – basically a medley of failed leaders, personalists, frustrated and deeply rooted locally – and the opposition of the party furthest from the government, where the Democratic Revolution was held (Frente Amplio) , directed by Giorgio Jackson. former leader of the university student movement from 2011.

Although the Constituent Assembly’s rules of procedure are drawn up by the convention itself, it was agreed in the inter-party agreement that the final draft would be approved by two-thirds of the convention’s members. Since no group has succeeded in securing a third, 52 members, no one will be able to unilaterally veto any decision being processed. But just as no one can veto, it will be difficult for everyone to negotiate with a two-thirds majority.

The path to a new constitution seems fraught with dangers, some of which are determined by democracy itself. On the one hand, there is a very strong demand for transparency and openness which would suggest that the negotiation process will be open and seen by the citizens. In this scenario, the members of the convention are encouraged to maintain purist positions in the negotiation and not to “compromise” the constitutional articles.

On the other hand, because of the number of elections that will be held between this plebiscite and the “exit” plebiscite. During this year, the Chileans will also vote in a second round of elections for regional governors, national primaries, general elections (for the Congress and the Executive) and finally a possible second round for the presidential elections. It is naive to expect that the convention and the other elections will not become contaminated. Each of these elections has the opportunity to raise new conflicts and open new debates that could undermine support for the process of creating a new constitution.

While there is a huge presence of new faces – so much so that even TV stations did not have photos of some of them when the results were released – the political inexperience of convention delegates , so attractive now to a country hungry for change, can become a problem.
These newcomers may be tempted to draft a maximalist document or inadvertently make mistakes that could be exploited by more experienced constituent politicians and more cohesive interest groups.

Another major source of uncertainty is that the exit referendum must be ratified by compulsory vote. The fact that the turnout in Chile has fluctuated around 50% since 2012 – and therefore half of ordinary citizens who consistently choose not to vote will be forced to do so – makes the outcome even more unpredictable.

In short, if on the one hand there is a feeling of recklessness in the process – a kind of leap into the void – there is also a feeling of necessary oxygenation and moderate optimism.

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