Two rituals should mark the start of the work of the Constituent Assembly in Chile, this Sunday (4).
The first will be led by elected lawmaker Francisca Linconao, 62, also known as the “machi” —spiritual authority — of the Mapuche people. The second ceremony will be led by Isabella Mamani, 33, a representative elected by the Aymara, another indigenous ethnic group in South America.
Even if they order separate events, they will do the same: they will pray in their native language.
Then, the work of the members of the Assembly will begin, which will meet for up to one year – nine months, extendable for three others – with the objective of drawing up a new Constitution for the country, replacing the one in force since 1981, written under the dictatorship by Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
The vote that elected voters in May represented a defeat for the right and for the current center-right alliance by which President Sebastián Piñera was elected. The government sector won only 37 of 155 seats (24%), while the center-left won 53 seats (34%), and the independents, 65 (42%). Approval of each law in the New Charter will require the approval of two-thirds of the House.
In this start of the process, the behavior of independent voters draws attention, a big surprise in the vote when they beat the traditional Chilean subtitles since the country’s re-democratization.
For socialist lawyer Fernando Atria, 52, elected by the center-left alliance Fuerza Común, they are unlikely to form new parties similar to familiar acronyms. In its place, according to Atria, there should be a movement similar to that which followed the referendum that ended the dictatorship in 1989. “For a while there will be a fluidity of alliances and caucuses, until that they fix on a new card. I think the parties will be less formal, ”he said.
The independent Jorge Baradit, 52, in turn affirms that the effort of his bloc will be to redefine the way in which the population participates in decision-making, which should be done through meetings with social organizations. “Traditional politics have been defeated. Therefore, if we do not find a new way to practice politics, it will be more and more rejected,” says the historian. “The constituents must make this Constitution alongside those who are not satisfied with the model, not separately from them.”
The turnout in the most recent polls in Chile fell short of expectations.
In the election that formed the Constituent Assembly, 43.4% of the voters went to vote. In the regional elections in June, only 19.7%. The coronavirus – which has infected more than 1.5 million people nationwide and killed more than 32,000 – has hindered, but historically participation has been declining since before the health crisis.
It also doesn’t help that there are so many elections in the same year. In two weeks the presidential primaries will take place. Shortly after, in November, the Chileans choose Piñera’s successor and the new members of Congress. “It’s a shame [as próximas eleições] happen while we are writing the Constitution, because somehow it’s going to politicize our work. In the campaign, there will be both critics of our work and candidates to use it as a flag, ”says Baradit.
In the right-hand field, the main candidates for the presidential primary are Joaquín Lavín (Independent Democratic Union), Mario Desbordes (National Renewal), Ignacio Briones (Evópoli) and the independent Sebastián Sichel. On the left, Daniel Jadue, from the Communist Party, and Gabriel Boric, from the Frente Amplio. Recent polls indicate a scenario that is still uncertain: if the election takes place today, according to the Cadem Institute, Jadue would be in the lead, tied with Lavín, both with 14%.
Among the main themes addressed by the Constituent Assembly are the banners of the movement that erupted in October 2019 and took thousands of Chileans to the streets for months: more access to quality education and health, reform of the pension system and inclusion of indigenous communities.
For political scientist Patricio Navia, professor at New York University, the Constituent Assembly will bring “a short-term disappointment”, and there is a risk of new street protests. “People have asked for this new Charter because they want more social rights, they want better pensions and pensions. But it will take time, if agreements are made in the Constituent Assembly. And, as it takes time , this will not deal with emergencies. “
The expert also claims that the drafters of the new Constitution will face other hurdles, such as the withdrawal of pension funds authorized by Congress last year as a way to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. “People have spent money that was intended for old age. It will be absent from the pension system in the future. In other words, the new letter will ask for better pensions, but the money for it has already been spent. It will be a problem we pass on to future generations. “