Chilean Congress approves bill to launch new constituent process

One of the fundamental demands of the October 2019 social uprising against inequality was a new constituent process to replace the country’s dictatorship-era constitution

January 15, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
“I approve it for my class,” reads the banner supporting the vote for a new constitution in Chile. Photo: Frente Fotográfico

The Chilean Chamber of Deputies, on Wednesday, January 11, with 109 votes in favor, 37 against and two abstentions, approved a bill that launches a new constituent process to replace the country’s dictatorship-era constitution.

The bill had already been approved in the Senate. On January 3, the upper house of Congress had passed it with 42 votes in favor, seven against and one abstention. Now, it must be promulgated by President Gabriel Boric in order to take effect. After it is published in the Official Gazette, the process to draft a new constitution, one of the fundamental demands of the October 2019 social uprising against inequality, will begin.

The bill calls for the creation of a Commission of Experts of 24 members, a Constitutional Council of 55 members, and a Technical Admissibility Committee for redrafting Chile’s new Magna Carta.

In the first step, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate will elect twelve members each for the Commission of Experts. The experts will draw up a preliminary draft of the future constitution. They will begin working on March 6 and will have three months to complete the task.

On May 7, citizens will vote to elect the members of the Constitutional Council on a gender parity criterion. Elections will be mandatory. Seats reserved for Indigenous Peoples will be added to the council according to percentage of the total national vote.

The members of the Constitutional Council will be in charge of writing a new constitution on the basis of the draft proposed by the Commission of Experts. They will take office 30 days after their election and will have five months to fulfill their mission. Any contradictions will be addressed by a mixed commission of experts and councilors.

The Technical Admissibility Committee, made up of 14 professionals, will also begin functioning on March 6. It will have the role of ensuring respect for the 12 institutional bases reached as part of the “Agreement for Chile,” signed by the majority of political parties with parliamentary representation.

The final draft of a new constitution will be put to a mandatory popular referendum for ratification on December 17, when all citizens aged 18 and above will vote to declare themselves “in favor” or “against” it, instead of “approving” and “rejecting” it.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Vlado Mirosevic of the Liberal Party of Chile, celebrated the approval of the bill. “We approved the route of the New Constitution to leave behind the Constitution written during the dictatorship, and rediscover ourselves as a peaceful society. Chile needs certainties to be able to continue advancing in economic recovery and security issues,” Mirosevic tweeted.

Chile’s current constitution was written and imposed in 1980 under the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). The civil society organizations and progressive sectors argue that it enshrined a neoliberal economic model, which favors private interests and prevents any substantial social change to the system.

In September 2022, Chileans, with 62%, rejected a proposed constitution, which was considered to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and addressed the country’s stark social inequalities. It established numerous remarkable progressive changes in terms of social justice, gender equality, Indigenous peoples’ rights, environmental protection, participatory democracy, among others.

Social movements, trade unions and progressive political parties condemned the conservative sectors for deliberately attacking the draft with misinformation and lies in mass media and social media to influence an outcome against it.

Following the draft’s rejection in the exit plebiscite, President Boric pledged to continue working with Congress and civil society to come up with a “new constituent process.”

Several social leaders and politicians from across the political spectrum supported his call and agreed to convene a new constitutional convention, noting that the citizens had rejected a proposed constitution, but the desire to have a new constitution, expressed at the entry plebiscite in October 2022, remains valid.