Yesterday Chile rejected, in a plebiscite, the second proposal to reform the constitution, which was instituted in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). This is the second time that Chileans have voted against a proposal for a new Magna Carta, after the “No” vote in 2022 to the text defended by the leftist forces and by President Gabriel Boric himself. Yesterday, Sunday, the project drafted by the conservative parties that defend the dictator’s legacy was opposed by 55.76% of the electorate.
President Boric, responding to the results from La Moneda Palace, stated, “During our mandate, the constitutional process is closed, other matters are more urgent.” This remark signals a halt in pursuing new constitutional drafts during his term.
The Pinochetist right, defeated?
Apparently, if yesterday one party was clearly defeated in Chile, it was the Pinochetist right wing, the same party that 15 months ago enthusiastically celebrated the “No” obtained by the leftist constitutionalist project. The drafting of the new constitutional text was led by the Republican Party, founded by the ultra-right-wing and former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast. However, although they have not achieved the approval of their text, the Republican Party is still on the rise.
“A great majority of Chileans have rejected the constitutional proposal that we promoted from the Constitutional Council. We failed in the effort to convince Chileans that this is a better Constitution than the current one and the safest way to end the political, economic and social uncertainty”, declared Kast after the results were known.
“We did not triumph, but we are proud of the work we did facing the citizens, speaking with truth and with a deep love for Chile. Our convictions are clear and we will continue working with the same energy that characterizes us. Today more than ever,” Kast wrote on his social networks.
Despite the defeat, the Republicans have been able to turn the December 17 referendum into a springboard for the right in the run-up to the presidential elections at the end of 2025. Since the creation of the far-right Republican Party in 2019, this political group has had a major impact on Chilean politics by leading the first round of the presidential elections in 2021, which would eventually give Boric the triumph, and obtaining about half of the seats in the Constitutional Council in May 2023.
The pro-government left, conciliatory
For his part, the President of Chile did not want to deepen the wound of the opposition. The president, of progressive ideology, was conciliatory in his first assessments. “Neither celebration nor arrogance. Ball to the floor, humility and work, a lot of work,” he said in his speech regarding the results.
Boric affirmed that the priorities of the Chilean people were different, and “therefore they are also mine”. The president pointed out that his government is focused on guaranteeing equal and quality access to health, housing, education and pensions, as well as the fight “to win the battle against delinquency, drug trafficking and organized crime”.
However, this result cannot be interpreted as a victory for the president either. Although right-wing and extreme right-wing forces wanted to present the vote as a presidential plebiscite, the man who was elected two years ago as the youngest president in Chilean history has seen his popularity falling in the polls.
The complexity of agreeing the legal framework
The situation in Chile exemplifies the country’s difficulty in agreeing on a consensual account of what the dictatorship was, as well as on a framework norm that would serve to bring agreement among the different social and political sectors on rules of coexistence. The failures of the left and the right in their proposals for a new constitution paint a picture that forces politicians to agree on a reform that can truly obtain the majority social support it needs.
It is worth remembering that this whole process began in October 2019, with the major social protests that paralyzed Chilean public life. A year after the outburst, more than 80% of voters were in favor of replacing its constitution, but the first attempt to do so, led by independents and leftist sectors, failed in September 2022, when 62% voted against it. With yesterday’s defeat of the right-wing proposal, the country remains deadlocked in its attempt to achieve constitutional consensus.
Carolina Leitao, spokeswoman for those who advocated voting against the conservative proposal, has said that the result is a call for politicians to engage in dialogue. “The fact that the “No” vote was supported by the citizens puts upon us a tremendous responsibility, which is to get to work, all of us, from all sectors. The people are saying to us: Understand, we want more agreements, less disputes,” she pointed out.