The World Today for December 15, 2023


Political Whiplash


In September 2022, the new left-wing president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, and his progressive allies asked voters to ditch the business-friendly constitution written under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and opt for a new document that would uphold social and indigenous rights, protect the environment, and mandate gender parity.

Even after mass protests in the capital of Santiago against sky-high living costs in 2019 rocked the country and demonstrated the need for change, Chilean voters overwhelmingly rejected the left’s proposed constitution.

Now the right is trying its hand at constitutional-building. On Dec.17, the South American country is holding a referendum to adopt a new constitution authored by conservatives, reported Reuters.

This result is Boric’s doing. After the first constitutional proposal failed, he created a commission of experts whom Congress would appoint. They would write a first draft. Then 51 elected representatives would craft a final version. As the Americas Society/Council of the Americas explained, conservatives dominated the latter process.

The constitution would enshrine “a social and democratic state of law” in the country – but, critics said, the new framers undercut that premise by limiting rights to health, education and pensions, wrote El País. It would define children under the age of 18 as “humans,” a move that appears to threaten abortion rights, critics said. It also lacks language that would protect sexual and gender minorities, added the Washington Blade.

The document would make it easier for the government to expel migrants. It would also allow convicted felons to request house arrest if they can demonstrate a terminal illness and don’t represent a danger to society – moves that could benefit former soldiers in Pinochet’s oppressive regime now serving prison time for their crimes against humanity and violating human rights.

Supporters of the proposed constitution were running ads referring to soaring crime rates and illegal migration as reasons why voters should back it, Bloomberg reported. Polls, however, said that voters are likely to reject this constitution, noted the Christian Science Monitor’s Editorial Board.

What happens next – after neither right nor left can replace a constitution penned under dictatorship – is the question. Boric has said he won’t pursue a third constitution referendum. Will others agree? Will future elections become more fraught? Will frustrated voters on either side of the spectrum opt for other means to achieve their political goals?

“While Chile’s upcoming constitutional referendum is unlikely to drastically change the country’s socio-economic model, it highlights ideological divisions that will create long-term political and economic uncertainty in the country,” cautioned Stratfor, a strategic analysis firm.

On the other hand, maybe the Chileans can compromise with each other.

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