After a hundred days of a shameful parliamentary spectacle, the political class has agreed on a new institutional route in search of a Constitution. This comes after the complete failure of the first attempt in which the citizenry overwhelmingly rejected what was proposed by the Constituent Convention. According to the results of a plebiscite in which a repudiation of the government and the political parties was most likely expressed, rather than a long and complex text that was hardly read by those who voted. In a country where more than 50 percent functional illiteracy is recognised.
It is now a question of the “Agreement for Chile” in which names and procedures are once again being defined to achieve a Magna Carta, assuming that in the plebiscite consultation the voters preferred to continue with the 1980 Constitution (Pinochet Lagos) instead of ratifying what was defined as a maximalist proposal that sought to severely alter our institutionality.
From all political and social sectors, it was then said that the new Constitution should be drafted by a constituent assembly and ratified in a universal, i.e., democratic, election. For the first time in our history, the nature of the State and its main institutions were being handed over to the people. On a “blank sheet of paper”, certainly, because nothing was “written in stone”. However, this process failed and today we are once again faced with defining our institutional future on the basis of a set of rules agreed by some 14 parties and three movements, among the twenty or so that make up the legislative benches. If the “party orders” are respected, it could easily be approved by the National Congress in record time.
Thus, if in the previous attempt the Social Outburst of 2019 and the massive protests that forced the Government and the Legislative Power to call on the people were decisive, this time the agreement is the result of a long and complex conciliation in which the new Constitution will have to be framed within the 12 constitutional bases that stand as a “border” that cannot be exceeded by the decisions of the future drafters of the new Fundamental Charter. That is to say, by an Institutional Council, this time of only 50 members plus seats for representatives of indigenous peoples.
As a guarantee of the above, the new councillors will be subject to the proposal previously made by a Commission of 24 experts appointed by both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. However, in order not to run any risk, this process will also be subject to a Technical Admissibility Committee composed of “14 jurists of outstanding professional and/or academic trajectory”, whose list will also be appointed by the Legislative Branch.
The positive aspect of all this lies in the tight deadlines that the proposal has set for completing the whole process of defining our Magna Carta. The ratifying plebiscite will be held in November next year by means of compulsory popular suffrage. This would allow us to move smoothly on to the upcoming municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections, according to the now pre-defined requirement that we are a “democratic republic” with a “unitary and decentralised state”. With three branches of government, two legislative chambers and several pre-established autonomous bodies as well as the current branches of the Armed Forces and the Security and Law Enforcement Forces. As can be deduced from the 12 agreed institutional bases, which, in reality, very much resemble an abridged constitution.
The most obvious thing now is that the political class has ensured itself a greater interference than the citizens in the definition of our new institutionality, which has already provoked reactions of repudiation from various political and social actors, which will surely be joined by others in the coming days, when the “machine” or “kitchen” practised by the political class to establish a defensive lock to the possibility of a change that threatens their powers and interests will be discovered. When the full exercise of popular sovereignty, so much proclaimed two years ago to regulate our republican coexistence, has already been dismissed with these locks.
Considering the weighty reasons that can be put forward for agreeing to the participation of experts and reviewers in the constituent process, it is clear that those who are elected to the Constitutional Council will go into this task with a severely limited margin for action. Nevertheless, it is certain that many will be interested in joining this body, given that their functions will be remunerated. In a country whose economic crisis gives government positions an enormous possibility of receiving an income.
If the agreement to which we refer took so long to be concluded, we fear that the deadlines could also be extended in the definition of the so-called experts and reviewers, especially when their appointment will fall to the political parties involved in this proposal. It is obvious that, no matter how much the solvency of the chosen ones is proposed, the quotas will be manifested in the same way in which the high judges and prosecutors of our National Judiciary are appointed. We may thus witness a new and extensive series of quarrels and transactions, unless in these 100 days even the names of those who will sit on these bodies have been negotiated.
It is certainly not possible to claim victory, let alone presume that what is to come will be a fully democratic process. Still less can we be confident that the final decision of the citizenry can freely ratify a text whose fundamental bases have already been defined by the deputies, senators and governors whose popularity and legitimacy are in tatters. So much so that the election of the new constituents will be based on the provisions of the current Electoral Law regarding the composition of the Upper House, whose correlation of seats in no way represents the real distribution of citizens by constituency. It is clear that there is a group of constituencies that elect more senators than those in the most populous areas of the country. This is yet another of the political agreements that are typical of our precarious institutional solvency.
We are also struck by the promptness with which the country’s big businessmen have backed this new constitutional itinerary, as well as the postulation in the press of old politicians to take part in this process, after they had been displaced from the previous event.