Chileans Overwhelmingly Reject a New, Progressive Constitution
17 February 2023 The ConstitutionofIndia.net Podcast
On 4 September 2022, Chileans overwhelmingly rejected a new Constitution, with 62% of the voters saying NO in a referendum. A Constitutional Convention comprising of 144 directly elected delegates had released a Draft Constitution in March 2022. It contained strong provisions for environmental protection, indigenous peoples’ rights, gender diversity in public institutions, a national healthcare system, and labour rights amongst a range of other progressive measures. The Draft soon became the darling of several academics and civil society activists the world over. But the Chilean people, it appears, did not share the same enthusiasm.
In this podcast, we try to make sense of these developments. Why did the Chilean people reject the new Draft Constitution? What does this mean for future, progressive, constitution making projects?
On 4th September 2022, Chileans overwhelmingly said NO to a new Constitution.
In 2019, student groups had vigorously protested against increased prices of public transportation. This soon transformed into a wider movement for large scale social and economic reform through a new Constitution.
A Constitutional Convention comprising 144 directly elected delegates was set up two years later, and it released a Draft Constitution in March 2022. It would’ve replaced the older one enacted under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1980.
The Draft contained strong provisions for environmental protection, indigenous people’s rights, gender diversity in public institutions, a national healthcare system, and labour rights amongst a range of other progressive measures. It soon became the darling of academics and civil society activists the world over. Some even described it as the most progressive constitutional text ever written.
But the Chilean people, it appeared, did not share the same enthusiasm. What went wrong? On the face of it, the Chilean constitutional process was designed to succeed—the demand for the Constitution emerged from wide cross-sections of society. The Convention was equally composed of men and women. And the Constitution’s provisions catered to all marginalised groups with an impressive bouquet of social and economic welfare provisions.
Some have argued that the dominance of a leftist political ideology was the primary reason. While the people of Chile wanted change, the new Draft was far too radical. Others argue, that even though most Convention delegates emerged out of popular social and political mobilisation, they were independents, without much political experience. They failed to keep in touch with their political and social bases once constitution making began.
The Chilean rejection must be seen with some concern. Future progressive constitutional projects might now be seen with scepticism. Marginalised groups in other parts of the world may lose faith in articulating their demands in a constitutional idiom. Worst of all, dominant social and political elites now have a reason for stalling constitutional reform.
Because of its significance, the rejection of the Chilean Draft Constitution is likely to be the subject of detailed post-mortem analysis by civil society activists and academics. We at ConstitutionofIndia.net, will continue to keep you updated on these developments. Head to the link in the bio where we spotlight 5 readings which we think are invaluable in making sense of the Chilean situation, and constitution making generally.