Chile votes this Sunday between approving or rejecting the new constitutional text drafted by 154 democratically elected conventioneers. Two years ago the Chileans decided, discard the Constitution born in the dictatorship and make another, more modern and participatory. It decided with a 78% majority and as part of the solution to the serious social and political crisis that the social outburst October 2019.
Never before had a democratically elected convention been in charge of drafting a Political Charter in the southern country. A convention, moreover, integrated with inclusion of independents, of native peoples and with gender parity. A collegiate body that managed to write it within the period established in its call, barely one year. The text it included all kinds of rights, including some avant-garde ones, such as those of nature or digital rights.
It sounds like there would be no reason not to love her, but the polls say otherwise. In the last month the Approve option did not win in any of them. It is not that Chileans want to keep Pinochet’s Constitution, but rather that the new proposal has not achieved the same consensus that had the idea of leaving the current one behind.
For the analyst from the Res Pública Institute, Ricardo Hernández, this is explained because, although almost all Chileans agreed to replace the current Constitution, they imagined the new one with different approaches. “The option of something new was much more appealing, but now we are given a concrete possibility on the table,” he explains. But that concrete possibility generates uncertainties that have been exploited by those who oppose the text.
Added to this is that the Constitutional Convention also failed to enchant people with the process. Quite the contrary. Cases like the conventional Rodrigo Rojas Vade, a hero of the social outbreak who deceived all of Chile saying that he had cancerended up damaging the image of the entire convention by showing that “non-politicians” can be corrupted just like politicians.
This was reflected in the agreement signed by progressive parties, the majority of the ruling party, to commit to reforming the proposed new Constitution if it wins approval. One of the reforms would be in the article that creates the Indigenous Law, to frame it only for non-criminal causes.
In the The Rejection side also promise that, if they win, they will support a new constitutional process. But there is not yet a proposal for this new process: it is not specified if they will support a democratically elected convention writing it again or if they want the congress or a committee of experts to write it.
And to further confuse the citizenry, the Fake news and information pollution abound. From the defenders of Rejection, mainly, false articles and absurd interpretations have proliferated. And it is that, although the articles give space to interpret them, there has been a tendency to exaggerate to levels beyond common sense.
For example, supporters of the Rejection have argued that the constitutional proposal eliminates the right to own a home, because all will belong to the State. But this is not real, since the new text does include the right to private property.
In another example of exaggerated interpretation, the right-wing senator Felipe Kast maintained that with the new Constitution it would be possible to abort up to nine months of pregnancy. Although the text says that women will be able to freely decide on abortion, it does not specify up to how many weeks, which Congress will have to establish later.
Alfonso Henríquez, from the Constituent Forum of the University of Concepción, maintains that the norms can be interpreted. “But what is being sought many times is the worst possible interpretation or the most elaborate and negative.”
From the Approval, on the other hand, they tend to brand as fake news the vast majority of critical interpretations of the text, several of them reasonable, which has also harmed citizen discussion. “It’s hard to know who you can believe if both sides accuse each other of misinformingHenriquez adds.
The analyst acknowledges that certain regulations were not well “closed”, which is why they generate understandable doubts. One of them is the Indigenous Law. “There is a norm where the State is obliged to recognize the legal systems of the original peoples in a plan of coordination with the national system. So far good. But the problem is that nothing is said about who are the people who will be able to access these justice systems and what are the matters that are excluded from indigenous justice. There is a design problem there.
All in all, the process for the first time brought the Constitution to the table of Chileans. They have discussed the text in workplaces, squares, universities and neighborhood associations. Even the book broke records for sales and downloads on the internet.
International surprise at the tremendous interest in the text of the New Constitution!
– Twitter Outburst (@EstallidoTw) August 2, 2022
Cristina Dorador, exconventional and scientific, highlights that part of the process. “It has meant a massive Civic Education class for the population.” Dorador, defender of the Approval, assures that there is a disinformation campaign that precisely focuses on sensitive issues for citizens, such as the right to housing, pension funds or freedom of education. And that despite this campaign, people are becoming more informed and asking more complex questions. “They ask how a certain article is going to be implemented and how it is going to affect their daily life”He says.
Among this disinformation that Dorador speaks of, there are even paid actors who represent fictitious testimonies in favor of Rejection in their television campaign. In this sense, Claudio Fuentes, coordinator of the Constitutional Laboratory of Diego Portales University, explained in an interview with CNN that “the pro-Rejection are carrying out a disinformation campaign (more clearly) than those of Approval, that is evident from the numbers.”
Fuentes added that in conversations with citizens questions always arise regarding, for example, If it is true that the houses will be expropriated or the police force will disappear, the national police. “It is very difficult and there is very little time to destroy these myths that have been installed in public opinion.”
From the Electoral Service itself they have had to publicly deny much information. In July, for example, a message went viral on Twitter according to which visas were being given to Venezuelans so that they could vote for Approval. The Servel came out to clarify that the Foreigners must live in Chile for at least 5 years to have the right to vote.
FALSE | In order for a foreigner to be incorporated into the Electoral Registry, they must have resided in Chile for more than 5 years, information provided to Servel by the National Migration Service.
— Electoral Service (@ServelChile) July 18, 2022
But on the Approval side they haven’t had a very successful campaign either. For example, in a public act in Valparaíso on Sunday, August 28, an artist removed the Chilean flag from between her buttocks. Although several exponents of Approval came out to condemn the performance, the damage had already been done. Above all because from the Rejection they have stressed that the new Charter proposal is “anti-Chilean” and it is still remembered when in the installation of the process some conventionalists whistled the interpretation of the national anthem.
Beyond the false information and news, planted mainly from the Rejection, or the actions and unfortunate statements of adherents of the Approval, several analysts agree that there are complex articles in the proposal that could generate an institutional weakness especially in the checks and balances. But there are also avant-garde aspects that should be kept in a next proposal, if this one turns out to be a loser.
Among the most criticized is the plurinationality in a country with a mestizo majority, where only 12% of the population declares himself indigenous. And the criticisms have come from the same center-left, where the support base of the Approval is. Isidro Solís, former Minister of Justice during the administration of Michelle Bachelet, argued that the new proposal is “institutionally dangerous for Chile” and that the best thing would be to completely redo what was done. Precisely Solís criticizes above all the lack of clarity regarding how the Indigenous Justice will work.
There is also criticism for the elimination of the Senate, which has served as a counterweight to the power of the Executive and the Lower House. And for the creation of a series of new political institutions that will be a fiscal burden.
On the other side of the coin, some pioneering steps are praised nationally and internationally, such as the inclusion of rights of nature, digital and women over their own body. For example, in Chile currently the waters of rivers or groundwater are privately owned, they can be sold and even inherited. In the new constitution, the State regains control of these water resources. And one of the articles of the proposal commits Chile to the fight against climate change: “The State must promote dialogue, cooperation and international solidarity to adapt, mitigate and face the climate and ecological crisis and protect nature.”
All in all, it is not easy to predict which option will win. The only fairly clear thing is that the process will not end on September 4 and the Chileans have shown it in the polls. Despite the fact that the Rejection wins in these, 78% of those asked remain convinced that a new Constitution is needed, as the survey says august cadem. In that one, just 12% said they would approve the current proposal unchanged.
That is why Sunday’s vote seems to be just one milestone in a longer process that should end, yes or yes, in a new constitution built democratically, for the good of the country’s stability.
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* Member of the editorial board of CONNECTAS