Chile: the new Constitution rejected by referendum

Definitive setback for a new Constitution in Chile

Chile: the new Constitution rejected by referendum

Definitive setback for a new Constitution in Chile. More than 15 million voters were called to vote by referendum on Sunday, December 17, for the second time in just over a year, to replace the Basic Law in force since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. According to the partial results published by the Electoral Service (Servel), the "against" won by 55.54% of the votes, while the "for" obtained 44.55%, after counting 76.52% of the votes. votes.

The text submitted to the vote, more conservative than the current Constitution, was written by those who defend the legacy of General Pinochet, after the rejection, in September 2022, of a first progressive proposal supported by the young left-wing president, Gabriel Boric. The latter, aged 37, recently assured that this new consultation would be the last attempt to reform the Constitution.

The polls, banned for two weeks, predicted a large majority rejection of the new text, despite a high number of undecided people.

Satisfy the social movement of 2019

The revision of the Constitution of the Pinochet era (1973-1990), considered as a brake on any fundamental social reform, was enacted to satisfy the social movement of 2019 against inequalities, which left around thirty dead. A year later, Chileans approved 80% of the drafting of a new Constitution.

After the rejection of the first proposal, Mr. Boric suffered a new setback in May, when the ultra-conservative right came first in the vote to elect the members who would form the Constitutional Council responsible for drafting the new Basic Law.

“Today we are experiencing a new civic day which, beyond any result, strengthens our democracy,” said President Boric after voting in his hometown of Punta Arenas (3,000 km south of Santiago). “Chile,” said the Head of State, “has demonstrated a strength that we should not take for granted, namely that problems (…) are channeled institutionally and resolved peacefully.”

The Republican Party (far right) has won over voters with its uncompromising discourse against insecurity, which it mainly associates with Venezuelan immigration. The opposition presented Sunday's vote as a consultation on President Boric, who rode a wave of discontent to be elected in late 2021, at the age of 35, as the youngest leader in Chile's history , but whose popularity is now declining.

Cooled enthusiasm

The proposed new Constitution reinforced the conservative nature of the current text, which dates from 1980, particularly on issues such as abortion and public security. Abortion was completely banned in Chile until 2017, when a law authorized it but only in cases of risk to the mother's life, rape or a fetus declared non-viable. The current Constitution “protects the life of the unborn,” but the rejected text went beyond that, making the embryo a person, thus making it more difficult to justify an abortion.

The new text, on the other hand, recognized indigenous peoples for the first time, a long-standing aspiration of indigenous peoples, mainly Mapuche, who represent around 12% of the population, but did not respond to their demand for more autonomy.

Enthusiasm for a new Constitution has been dampened by the pandemic, inflation and a growing sense of insecurity and weariness among the population. “There is an atmosphere of disenchantment, of little interest, of little motivation and of fatigue with regard to the constitutional question,” underlines Claudia Heiss, political scientist at the University of Chile. “People want more basic things: they want security, public order, more police on the streets,” she emphasizes.