Chile finalises new draft constitution to replace Pinochet-era document

After 10 months of fraught negotiations, Chile has finalised the draft of a new constitution that could replace the document drawn up during Gen Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

María Elisa Quinteros, the president of the gender-equal, 154-member assembly will formally present the draft at a ceremony in the port city of Antofagasta on Monday afternoon.

“This is an ecological and equal constitution with social rights at its very core,” she said in an interview.

Among the long list of rights and freedoms the draft enshrines, the new constitution makes higher education free, ensures gender parity across government and makes the state responsible for preventing, adapting to and mitigating climate change.

The constitution will be put to a referendum on 4 September in which all Chileans aged 18 or older must vote.

Chile exploded into protest in 2019 and millions of people took to the streets decrying a host of entrenched inequalities. In response, political parties struck a compromise to move towards replacing the Pinochet-era constitution.

Nearly 80% of voters chose to begin that journey in an October 2020 plebiscite, and seven months later leftists and independents stormed elections for a constitutional convention.

“With every bill that passed, we have provided answers to the demands of the 2019 demonstrations, such as better healthcare, education and pensions,” Quinteros said.

The new document will for the first time offer constitutional recognition to Chile’s Indigenous population.

“Whether this constitution is rejected or approved [by the plebiscite], I believe that Chile’s Indigenous peoples have already won,” said Rosa Catrileo, who represents the Mapuche, the country’s largest Indigenous group.

“We have made our demands visible on a national level, and so never again will we be excluded from the conversation,” she said.

The new document even includes a clause for the compensated restitution of historically Indigenous lands.

Among a host of other changes, it opts to eliminate the senate in favour of a single-chamber legislature, and paves the way for Chile’s deeply unpopular private water rights system to be replaced.

Since July last year, the former congress building in Santiago has been the stage for a lengthy and often bitter public battle over Chile’s future.

The process was designed around participation, with citizens able to endorse articles and debate legislation at assemblies the length of Chile.

As the country confronted its past head-on, delegates have occasionally been hounded by the public, while a vociferous campaign to undermine the process has raged in the background.

Although the Pinochet-era constitution was reformed significantly under the presidency of Ricardo Lagos in 2005, it retains the ideological fingerprints of Chile’s dictator.

It omits certain rights, such as the right to housing, and focuses on securing the legacy of the military regime as well as a market-led model for the provision of social services.

With 499 articles, Chile’s new constitution would be the world’s longest, prompting some concern over the “maximalist” approach taken by the delegates.

The convention has divided into three commissions: one to streamline and condense the document; another to plot the transition from one constitution to the next; and a third to write a preamble.

However, the outlook is uncertain ahead of September’s plebiscite.

Latest polling suggests that initial enthusiasm for reform has dissipated, with 46% saying they will reject the draft compared with 38% voting in its favour.

“There’s a chance that we’ll replace an illegitimate, authoritarian constitution with a divisive and ill-defined one,” said Kenneth Bunker, the director of tresquintos.cl, a political analysis website.

Chile’s progressive new president, Gabriel Boric, has endured a tough start to his presidency with plummeting approval ratings, but was quick to voice his support for the convention after winning December’s election.

“It’s not wise to equate the success of the government with the success of a plebiscite,” said Bunker, who believes that a narrow mandate for the new document could prolong Chile’s political upheaval.

If the draft is approved by a majority, it will be ratified as Chile’s new constitution. If it is rejected, the 1980 document will remain in force.

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