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Technocrats, scientists, environmentalists, and other experts and policymakers love Chile’s proposed new constitution. As Nature detailed, the new founding document for the South American nation would “boost science, expand environmental protection and improve the nation’s education system.”
Problem is, few Chileans feel the same way.
The new constitution, which Chileans will approve or reject in a Sept. 4th referendum, is a symbol of the times. It would replace a constitution adopted more than 40 years ago under Augusto Pinochet, a military dictator who seized the country from a democratically-elected left-wing president in a US-backed coup.
Pinochet died in 2006. But, even as Chileans have since elected their leaders in democratic exercises, the system he created lived on. Conservatives at the Hoover Institution have praised the legacy system as capitalistic and pro-business, for example. In 2019, however, civil unrest broke out as Chileans took to the streets to protest inequality that they believed stemmed from deregulated markets and privatized social welfare systems, as the Guardian explained.
The new constitution would include environmental protections that stop private companies from gobbling up resources for profit while ordinary Chileans go without, for example, according to the Sierra Club. It would also limit the president to two consecutive terms, establish social rights to housing, food and other essentials and enshrine other progressive measures into law, Reuters added.
In 2020, Chileans voted to revise their constitution in a referendum. Scientists, educators, indigenous leaders rather than politicians, military officers and rich elites drafted the proposed constitution. In 2022, left-wing Gabriel Boric won the presidency on a campaign to welcome a new constitution.
Now it seems their plans might come to naught. Polls show that almost 46 percent of voters will give the document a thumbs down, reported Bloomberg. Only a third will approve it. Around 16 percent are undecided. Boric is already vowing to propose a new constitution if the no vote wins – not a good sign for proponents of change.
The arguments against change are legion, however. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Adolfo Ibáñez University economist Axel Kaiser argued that the new constitution would undermine the freedom of the judiciary, destroy the country’s stable business climate and centralize government authority, eliminating crucial checks and balances that maintain social stability.
Moderate voters will be key to determining whether the new constitution becomes the law of the land, Americas Quarterly wrote. Voting is mandatory, so many might vote yes because they feel as if they had little choice but to enact change anytime soon even if they tell pollsters that they are leery about the document.
Wholesale change is, after all, scary.