New GIGA Focus Latin America | Chile’s Constitutional Reform Process Rebooted / Detlef Nolte

Almost two years after about 80 per cent of Chileans voted for comprehensive constitutional reform and the election of a Constitutional Convention, the new draft constitution was roundly rejected by the voters in a 4 September referendum. Since the majority of those who rejected the proposal are in favour of a new constitution, the constitution-making process will continue, with many unanswered questions going forward.

The reasons for the rejection of the constitution are manifold: they lie in the performance of the Constitutional Convention, the quality of the draft, a misjudgement of the political constellation of forces and the interests of the citizens, and changing political and economic conditions since the beginning of the constitution-making process.

Even a participatory constitutional process that has been exemplary from a democratic and constitutional perspective can fail. Constitutional poetry may warm the hearts of core supporters but is insufficient to persuade those living in prosaic circumstances. The Constitutional Convention, with its large number of independents and political newcomers, did not live up to expectations. Political parties and Congress will end up playing a crucial role in the next round of constitution-making.

Even the supporters of the proposed constitution recognised its shortcomings before the referendum, and most of the opponents also want a new constitution. The dissatisfaction on both sides with the status quo and the reform process could be the basis for a consensus on the core elements of a new constitution and the procedure leading to it. But there is also the risk that the hubris of the left majority in the Constitutional Convention will be replaced by the hubris of the right in the wake of this draft’s rejection.

Policy Implications:

The political elite must decide as quickly as possible how to proceed in the constitution-making process. Otherwise, there is a risk of renewed social unrest and of further loss of confidence in political institutions. The positive scenario would be the drafting of a constitution that retains as many of the progressive innovations as possible but also accommodates the main concerns of the opponents of the rejected proposal.

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