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Chile's Constitutional Council debuts in stark contrast to previous failed process


Highlights: Fifty councillors assumed their positions in a sober and solemn ceremony. If in 2021 the president was Elisa Loncon, of the Mapuche people, today the lawyer of the Republican Party Beatriz Hevia has been elected. It is a second chance for the South American country, because in September 2022 citizens rejected by 62% the proposal delivered by the Constitutional Convention. The first phase began in March with the installation of an expert commission of 24 members, mostly jurists, which prepared a draft law of laws.

Fifty councillors assumed their positions in a sober and solemn ceremony. If in 2021 the president was Elisa Loncon, of the Mapuche people, today the lawyer of the Republican Party Beatriz Hevia has been elected

President Gabriel Boric during the installation ceremony of the Constitutional Council at the headquarters of the Congress of Santiago, this Wednesday. Sofia Yanjarí

Chile has begun the last stage of the process to change the Magna Carta born in 1980 in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), in a ceremony in which the 50 members of the Constitutional Council, an elected body of 25 women and 25 men and in which the right have a majority, accepted their positions. It is a second chance for the South American country, because in September 2022 citizens rejected by 62% the proposal delivered by the Constitutional Convention, which contained rules that profoundly changed Chilean institutions.

It was a solemn ceremony, attended by leftist President Gabriel Boric, something that no government authority did at the ceremony of the first attempt to change the Constitution on July 4, 2021. "Those of us who think differently can agree when it is required for the good of the country. This is what citizens expect today, a process of collaboration where the different parties are able to yield when necessary and find common ground in search of the best for Chile," he said in his speech. "I am convinced that it will do our country good to close this cycle and I hope and trust that during these months of intense work that await you, you think about those people who have committed themselves to represent, in their needs, in their dreams, in their anxieties and hopes and that this proposal manages to contain and include them, because for them, It is for our people this work and it is to whom we owe ourselves."

Gabriel Boric during the speech that began the installation ceremony of the Constitutional Council.Cristobal Venegas

After the failure of the previous project, Chile embarked this year on a new and totally different one, in which political parties and Parliament have played a key role and to which constitutional borders have been placed to avoid the previous experience. The first phase began in March with the installation of an expert commission of 24 members, mostly jurists, which prepared for three months a draft law of laws that delivered this June 7 to the Constitutional Council. Although it is not a binding text, it is a base with innovative content for Chile, but moderate, which will serve the work of the 50 new editors. Among them, the consecration that Chile is organized in a social and democratic State of law, a historical aspiration of the center-left but that, in this 2023 version, also has the look of the opposition so that the private sector maintains an important presence.

After the previous experience, for some Chileans it has been difficult not to compare this second process with the first. If in July 2021 the Constitutional Convention – which had 154 members, including 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples and a majority of independents from leftist social movements – took office in a bumpy ceremony, with protests and shouts both inside and outside the old National Congress building in Santiago, this time the tone has been sobriety and solemnity. That in the forms, although in the political background there are also differences. For example, if in 2021 a Mapuche woman, Elisa Loncon, was elected as president, today Beatriz Hevia, a member of the Republican Party, of the extreme right, has been elected as leader.

Beatriz Hevia (right) receives the draft Constitution from the president of the expert commission, Verónica Undurraga.Sofía Yanjarí

The endorsements that Hevia obtained as president, 33 votes, reflect the majority composition that the right has in the Constitutional Council. And it is a figure that can graph how the votes on the rules will be. Precisely, those 33 supports for the lawyer are equivalent to the number of seats that the opposition to President Boric won in the elections of May 7. Of these, 22 correspond to the Republican Party and 11 to Chile Vamos, a traditional right-wing conglomerate. On the other hand, the left added in those elections 17 votes, the same with which he was elected as vice president of the board of directors of the council, the independent for the Socialist Party, Aldo Valle. One of them was the Mapuche counselor Alihuen Antileo.

The first words of Beatriz Hevia, 30, quickly reflected the role that Republicans will play. Although he said he hopes that "this process can be a meeting point to build the future together" and that if they act beyond their differences "it can be successful and contribute to ending the uncertainty and instability that has marked the future of our country in recent years," he also had critical words about the direction he believes the country has. "Chile is not well. As a representative of the south of Chile, of the city and the rural world, and today also of the northern and central regions, I attest to the deep crisis that our country is experiencing. An economic, political, but above all, social crisis."

That's not all. For the lawyer, in addition, "Chile is experiencing a deep moral crisis" that, according to her, "is manifested in the decomposition of family life, in contempt for authority, norms and the rule of law."

Aldo Valle, the vice president and former rector of Valparaiso University, struck a different tone in a speech that, unlike Hevia, improvised. He said that the imprint of the Council "must always be to listen to us and let ourselves be persuaded by the best argument." And he was insistent in emphasizing that the body is diverse and plural, like Chile. "It must be an edifying deliberation, respecting different ideas, beliefs and purposes" and that "it is preferable to have peace, to be right".

Aldo Valle during the ceremony on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Congress. Sofia Yanjarí

After the ceremony in which the 50 councilors took possession of their positions – there were 51 in total, but a Republican counselor who was accused of sexual abuse did not take office – the president and vice president of the expert commission, Verónica Undurraga and Sebastián Soto, delivered to the new body the draft in which they worked between March and June. It is a draft Constitution that, although demure, has several differences with the current Magna Carta that was born in the military dictatorship and that has had 64 reforms in democracy (the last major changes in the Government of former socialist President Ricardo Lagos, 2000-2006, which ended with the authoritarian enclaves of Pinochet).

The draft that the councilors now have in their hands has some novelties with respect to the current text, including the consecration of the social State and the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples. It is a proposal that maintains in general the Chilean constitutional tradition and that not only preserves, but intensifies, the presidential system. It also expands the catalogue of social rights. For example, the right to adequate housing was enshrined for the first time.

And given the political fragmentation of the Chilean Congress, where there are 21 forces, the draft established an electoral threshold of 5% of the votes for parties to access seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, an anti-fractious rule was proposed so that parliamentarians who have been elected by a party and resign, lose their seat. Another measure has been the incorporation of a rule - which must be regulated by law - so that the governing bodies of a political party can give orders to their parliamentary members.

From now on, the expert commission will join the work of the Constitutional Council, but only with the right to speak. The 50 drafters, meanwhile, although they will write their own rules, will also have in view the draft of the preliminary draft, which has 14 chapters. And, faced with this text, they have several possibilities, ranging from approving to rejecting their articles, as well as modifying them.

The process will end on December 17, when citizens will decide in a referendum whether to approve or reject the new proposal. It is a last chance for the country to change the Constitution that has its origin in the Pinochet dictatorship, at least during the Boric period. This, because the president himself a few days ago put himself in the scenario that the proposal was rejected: "I believe that during our government there would not be in conditions to carry out a new process."

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-06-07

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