SANTIAGO: Chile officially starts writing a new constitution on Sunday (Jul 4) to replace the one it inherited from the era of dictator Augusto Pinochet and is widely blamed for deep social inequalities that gave rise to deadly protests in 2019.
The country’s biggest protests in 30 years of democracy won Chileans a referendum last October in which a majority voted for a new constitution to be drawn up by a body of elected members.
This 155-member body, elected in May and called a “constitutional convention,” will on Sunday officially start its work of crafting a new Magna Carta for a new Chile.
It is a representative collection of Chileans – lawyers, teachers, a housewife, scientists, social workers, vets, writers, journalists, actors and doctors – many of whom had themselves partaken in the protests.
The youngest is 21.
Half are women, by design, and 17 seats were reserved for representatives of indigenous groups.
The assembly holds the power to draft a new path for the country after decades of political and economic power concentrated in the hands of an elite, many from the right and defenders of the old constitution’s free-market guarantees.
“They come from the same schools, they go to the same three universities and most of them have lived in Santiago, in the most affluent neighborhoods,” Marcela Rios, assistant representative of the United Nations Development Program in Chile, told AFP of the old guard.
DIVERSITY PRESENTS CHALLENGES
The new constitution-drafters, in contrast, come from a diverse array of backgrounds, mainly with leftist leanings, and many gained their support base from years of social work in their communities.
“Diversity is a good thing but it also presents challenges that will require concessions” for any agreement to be reached, said constitutional law expert Javier Couso from the University Diego Portales.
Independent candidates swept the May elections, taking 46 per cent of the seats as voters turned their backs on traditional political parties.
Centre-left parties, who broadly canvassed on greater state control of natural resources and more social spending, received a third of the votes cast.
The right garnered just more than 20 per cent, meaning it will have no veto on the body that requires a two-thirds majority to approve the draft constitution.
The document, in the end, will be put to a national referendum next year, in which voting will be mandatory.
Chile’s existing constitution dates from 1980, enacted at the height of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rule.
It promotes private enterprise in all sectors of the economy – including education, health and pensions – in a country ranked as one of the most unequal among advanced economies.
Chile has the highest per capita income and the third-most multimillionaires in Latin America.
But the working and even upper-middle classes are heavily indebted, often to pay for schooling and private pensions.
There is low satisfaction with the quality of life.
Constitutional convention member Rodrigo Rojas Vade told AFP he would seek to address the concerns of the Chilean “who is tired of receiving orders, who does not make it to the end of the month, who dies in hospital without care, the child who goes to bed with the pain of hunger every night”.
His group, the People’s List, supports water as a basic right, public health, free education, decent pensions and fortified human rights guarantees.
“To this day we live in a society that is restricted in the exercise of rights and freedoms because we still have a constitution inherited from this fratricidal period we lived through,” said Manuel Woldarsky, another People’s List representative.