It was a foregone conclusion that the rejection of the new Constitution at the referendum on September 4 was going to shift the center of gravity of Chilean politics much further to the right. However, the Chile Accord, as the new constitution-making process has been called, is worse than even the most pessimistic expectations.
How little democratic legitimacy there is in the new process is clearly shown by the weight given to the commission of 24 “experts” – appointed by Congress – who will be tasked, starting in January, with developing a draft of the new Constitution.
Especially since, in the absence of a definition of specific requirements to be considered “experts,” all nominations to these positions will be entirely discretionary.
The draft put together by the Commission will then be “discussed and approved,” within a five-month time frame (May 21 to October 21, 2023), by a Constitutional Council composed of 50 councilors (25 men and 25 women, plus a number of seats allotted to the indigenous people) who will be elected in April under the controversial electoral rules set by the Senate (which has always been the more conservative of the two chambers), based on lists put forward by parties or alliances of parties only, so independents can only hope to have a chance to gain a seat.
But that’s not all: articles that are neither approved by three-fifths of the councilors nor rejected by a two-thirds majority will be submitted to a Joint Commission consisting of six councilors and six experts, who will decide the fate of the disputed norms.
Finally, a Technical Admissibility Committee composed of 14 other experts appointed by the Senate will be called upon to identify, article by article, based on a four-sevenths majority vote, if there any contradictions with the institutional foundations of the Chile Accord: 12 pillars agreed upon by the parties which preserve the essentials of Pinochet’s Constitution, regarding both the economic model and the political system, with the addition of rote formulas such as Chile being a “democratic and social state,” but emptied of all content, as it is at the same time bound by the principle of “fiscal responsibility.”
Meanwhile, any reference to plurinationality has disappeared: “The Constitution,” reads the text of the agreement, “recognizes indigenous peoples as part of the Chilean nation, which is one and indivisible. The State will respect and promote their rights and cultures.”
To conclude the process, there will be a ratification referendum with mandatory participation set for November 26.
“Once again, despite the difficulties, we have decided to solve the problems of democracy with more democracy and not with less,” was Gabriel Boric’s lone comment on the occasion of the signing of the Accord on December 12, after nearly 100 days of negotiations, by 14 parties, from UDI to the Frente Amplio and Partido Comunista, with the sole exception of the Partido Republicano of the extreme right. The signatories also include three movements that have arisen since the September 4 plebiscite campaign, starting with the Amarillos por Chile, which, after the role they played in favor of the rejection of the previous constitutional draft, now see themselves legitimized as political actors despite having no parliamentary representation.
By now, Boric has become a shadow of the young president who had quickly awakened the dreams of the international left. His comment is in line with the words he had spoken in late November at the unveiling of the statue of Patricio Aylwin, the first president of the always-unfinished transition to democracy, when he had praised the latter’s policy of changes “to the extent possible.”
Prominent Partido Comunista figure and Recoleta mayor Daniel Jadue also ended up accepting the agreement through gritted teeth, despite having called on his party just a few days earlier not to sign “an agreement that betrays the mandate of the people who elected us,” stressing that “the scenario of realpolitik or the politics of ‘what is possible’ leads always and exclusively to favoring those who don’t want change to happen.”
After the signing, however, he accepted defeat on Twitter: “The ghosts of ‘protected democracy’ are still there in the agreement. Courage and conviction have been lacking, but we will join the process to deny uncontested space to those who think they are the masters of Chile.”
Of course, among the popular movements there was only stark condemnation: they denounced that the Chile Accord expresses nothing but nostalgia for the regime of “protected democracy” that followed the end of the dictatorship, along with the fear of the political class that a failure to reach an agreement would foster political instability and trigger new protests.
They are accusing that this is a denial of popular sovereignty, a death knell for the demands and hopes for change raised by the October 2019 rebellion. Of course, that can only last until the next social explosion.