Chile’s Constitutional Council is confident in having its draft of the charter ready by the October deadline after it resolves over 1,000 pending amendments, though it faces an uphill battle to win over voters, the institution’s president said.
(Bloomberg) — Chile’s Constitutional Council is confident in having its draft of the charter ready by the October deadline after it resolves over 1,000 pending amendments, though it faces an uphill battle to win over voters, the institution’s president said.
Council committees are starting an analysis of the proposed modifications to the preliminary draft this week, said Beatriz Hevia. Their votes must be concluded by early September, which is when action moves to the institution’s floor, before a final recommendation is presented the month after.
“We’ll solve any difficulties that may arise because we have a serious commitment to meet all of the deadlines that have been established,” Hevia, 30, said. When asked directly if the timelines are realistic, she said “yes.”
A trained lawyer, Hevia is overseeing the institution that’s spearheading Chile’s second attempt to rewrite its constitution in as many years. The prior effort was rejected by voters in September on concern it was too radical. Now the pendulum has swung back in favor of the right, who dominate the council.
But they face an altogether new problem — voter apathy over a project that has dragged on for well over two years and already involved three national votes.
Just 26% of people plan to back the proposed new constitution, according to a Cadem poll published in July. The same survey found that 59% of respondents knew little or nothing of the work of the Commission of Experts, which kicked off the latest charter rewrite earlier this year.
For Hevia, much of voters’ frustrations is rooted in the failure of the prior attempt at a new charter.
“They put their hopes in the previous process, and it didn’t work out,” she said from the former congressional headquarters in downtown Santiago where the council works. “As a result, of course, it’s difficult to believe in a new one.”
The push to replace the current charter, which dates from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, came in response to a wave of social unrest in 2019. But over the past year the country has swung to the right and the elected council is likely to draw up a very different constitution to the one presented to voters in 2022.
Hevia is a member of the conservative Partido Republicano, which has opposed changing the existing charter and, following elections in May, became the largest party in the council. Its members have proposed over 400 modifications to the preliminary draft, and a successful outcome stands to burnish the party’s reputation ahead of local elections next year.
The amendments to the first draft presented by all parties in July exposed divisions among council members over hot-button topics from abortion rights to gender parity. Former President Ricardo Lagos warned last week that some of those proposals go against the nation’s diversity.
By contrast, Hevia stressed there’s been a willingness to listen to different opinions. The council’s end goal is to write a constitution for everyone, “demonstrating that we were able to put the interests of all Chileans above personal interests,” said Hevia, whose prior roles include serving as the youth coordinator for fellow party member Jose Antonio Kast’s presidential campaign.
“That doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when it will be very difficult, or even impossible, to reach agreements,” Hevia said. “I expect that to be infrequent. In those cases, it’s legitimate that the democratically-elected majority can make use of its position.”
The Constitutional Council has until October to make modifications to an outline for the new constitution drafted by the Commission of Experts. After the council produces a text, a Commission of Experts will then write a report that may include recommendations aimed at improving the document.
Ultimately, Chile will hold a referendum on the final draft on Dec. 17. If approved by a simple majority, the new charter would become law.
“To the extent that we all have the common notion that Chile has to leave behind a period of uncertainty and instability to achieve social and economic progress, then it will be easier to reach agreements,” Hevia said.
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