In Chile, the Republican Party gets the lead to replace a constitution it wants to keep

After the election of new advisers of the Constitutional Council, Chile’s right-wing parties will have broad autonomy in drafting a new constitution. But the far-right Republican Party has always wanted to keep the current one.

Gabriel Boric Constitutional Council election
Gabriel Boric, President of Chile, during the elections to form the Constitutional Council on May 7, 2023 | © Chile presidency

Chili voted on May 7 to elect the members of the Constitutional Council, the body in charge of drafting the country’s new constitution.

The far-right Republican Party gathered 35.4 percent of the valid ballots, finishing first before the governing left-wing coalition Unity for Chile with 28.6 percent of counted votes. Chile Seguro, an alliance of right and conservative parties, came third with 21.1 percent of the votes.

As a result of the election, right-wing parties will get 33 of the 51 seats (50 representatives of the political parties and one of the Indigenous peoples) that make up the Constitutional Convention, the body in charge of writing the new constitution that is supposed to definitely move away from the one drafted in 1980 under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.

As a consequence, they gathered more than the three-fifths majority needed to approve new articles to be included in the document before being submitted for approval in a referendum.

The Republican Party will have 22 councilors to draft the new political foundations of Chile. Furthermore, it will be the only single political party to benefit from the right to veto given above 21 councilors. Therefore, the far right will lead the creation of a new constitution that it didn’t want to change.

Unidad Para Chile will only have 17 advisors.

In 2020, nearly 80% of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution after the 2019 violent protests against inequality.

The results mark a significant defeat for the left and Gabriel Boric, the president of Chile elected in December 2021 with 55.9% of the votes to bring more social justice, democratic participation and a new constitution.

Unprecedented high number of null and blank votes

Mr. Boric was a key figure in the civil unrest and helped unite the left and center-left opposition for the presidential election. But the President’s popularity quickly eroded, largely due to the chaotic process of writing the new constitution (the previous Convention had 155 constituents), controversies, polarized ideas and confusing communications.

According to Cadem, one of the leading market research companies in the country, only 35 percent of Chileans approved Mr. Boric’s actions in March.

Conservative political parties such as the Republican Party, which had received only a few representative seats in the first Constitutional Council, also used to question the legitimacy of the Council.

Reacting to the results, José Antonio Kast, Republican Party leader who lost the presidential runoff against Mr. Boric, spoke Sunday night from his party headquarters and said “Chile has defeated a failed government.”

Arturo Squella, the president of the Republican Party, now the country’s leading political force, stated that they would “go to the Council loyally and in good faith. We will defend the principles and institutions that have made Chile great with our best arguments.” But for the Republican Party, the current constitution has provided good foundations for Chile to develop in the last decades.

After the results, Mr. Boric stated that “the people of Chile once again expressed their positions in a democratically by electing constituent councilors, whom I invite to act with wisdom and temperance to draft a text that reflects the vast majority of the country.”

The election, whose participation was mandatory or else people risked a fine of 189,000 pesos (232 dollars), was also marked by an unprecedented high number of blank and null votes, showing Chileans’ discontent and lack of interest in the constitutional process.

More than 2 million votes were null, nearly 17 percent of the ballots. Added to the 570,000 blank votes, more than 21 percent of the ballots didn’t give a preference.

Although they were not included in the final results, they gathered more votes than any other political party except for the Republican Party.

Last month, an opinion poll showed that only 31% of Chileans were interested in this second run to form the Council.

Two years earlier, when the first advisors were about to be chosen, the same survey showed 60 percent of citizens were interested in the process. Invalid votes at the time only accounted for 3 percent of the ballots, on a day during which Chileans also voted for mayors, councilors and regional governors.

The constitution’s first draft was rejected by 62% of people in a referendum in September 2022. The new Magna Carta proposal is expected to be submitted to a public plebiscite on December 17.

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