The leader of the Republican Party, José Antonio Kast (3i) poses with constitutional councilors elected in May, Santiago (Chile). Elvis Gonzalez (EFE)
Chile's second constitutional process to replace the Magna Carta inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which has undergone some 60 reforms since 1989, has entered this week on rocky ground. In the votes on amendments in the full Constitutional Council, a process that began last Friday, September 16, the right has asserted its overwhelming majority. The traditional right grouped in Chile Vamos has added its votes to the extreme right of the Republican Party – which has 22 of the 50 seats in the body – and together they have approved controversial norms such as "the right to life of the unborn", the immediate expulsion of migrants who enter through unauthorized steps, institutional conscientious objection and tax exemption for the first home (which benefits those with higher incomes). In recent days, different political sectors that make up the Council have begun to publicly express their doubts about supporting the text in the plebiscite of December 17.
To the critical voices of the leftist ruling party, this week have been joined by those of authorities of the center-left who called to reject the previous proposal and who now threaten to fall off the hook if they do not turn the course towards moderation. One of those voices is that of Democratic Senator Matías Walker, who warned that what the Constitutional Council is drafting "is far from" the idea it has of a Constitution. "A constitution is not a government program or a bill. The right is making exactly the same mistake as the left in the previous process," he said in reference to the previous attempt that Chile carried out between 2021 and 2022, which ended in September last year in a resounding failure. 62% of voters rejected it and it was an important defeat for the ruling party of President Gabriel Boric.
The Amarillos party, of the non-official center-left, has criticized some approved rules such as the tax exemption of the first home, but maintains the hope that in the remaining stages they will be moderated. "If that is not the case, we will simply have to assume reality and vote against it," said Michelle Bachelet's former justice minister, Isidro Solis.
The former constituent for the Party for Democracy (PPD), Felipe Harboe, clarified that from the center-left they will not support a conservative constitutional text. "We have warned and will continue to do so," he said.
From the official left, the same red lights have been put on. Before this week's votes, former socialist president Michelle Bachelet called on her sector "not to obfuscate, not to throw in the towel ahead of time," although she has warned: "If the proposed new Constitution goes backwards in women's rights, I could not vote in favor." The former minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency of Boric, the socialist Ana Lya Uriarte, on September 13, in a meeting on the constitutional issue of ICARE, warned: "The text that is today urgently requires the rescue operation."
To the warnings of the left, Republican advisers must also avoid friendly fire. Some 200 militants of the far-right formation, including Senator José Manuel Rojo, requested an internal referendum to define a common position for the December plebiscite, warning that they see among their party colleagues a majority inclination towards the option Against, considering that there are rules that threaten freedom and equality before the law. This party, in any case, has never been for changing the current Constitution, but by staying with 22 seats in the Constitutional Council in the elections last May, its leader, José Antonio Kast, has rowed to move forward amendments that represent the heart of his political force.
This week, Kast jumped right into key issues being discussed in the Council, where his party has the vast majority but not necessarily the final word. He even telephoned a councillor of the traditional right to get his vote. When the Constitutional Council finalizes the text, the Committee of Experts – which drafted a draft that left a good part of the political class in agreement – must make a report with observations, which must be approved by 3/5 of the Council or rejected by 2/3. If there is no quorum, a joint commission would be formed.
The focus today is on whether Chile Vamos, the historic right-wing coalition, will distance itself from the most extreme rules presented by the Republicans. So far, with a few exceptions and only a few off the hook, they have voted en bloc, asserting their majority in the Council.
In a column published this Saturday in La Tercera, the businessman and economist César Barros, linked to the traditional economic right, described the councilors of the traditional right as "lambs" of Republicans and accused them of fearing losing negotiations in the face of the next local elections. "The Constitution is not the important thing: what really matters is the loot that is coming, and to which we must make the most of it, even at the cost of a new rejection, or a new Constitution with pre-conciliar airs that will not be anywhere near the house of all that Chile Vamos promised before and after the September plebiscite," Barros said.
In the same newspaper, Deputy Diego Schalper (of RN, of the traditional right), said that "the constituent process is at a turning point, if it fails it will splash all sectors." Schalper, who has been part of the negotiations, warned that both Chile Vamos and Republicans have to assume that "if the text does not have transversality, it will hardly get afloat."
The prudence that has marked this process between the Boric Government and the Constitutional Council has also been altered in recent days. After the Minister of Women, Antonia Orellana, criticized the approved norms linked to reproductive rights that, she said, "would allow us to go back even in the morning-after pill," the president of the Council, Republican Beatriz Hevia, escalated the discussion assuring that she expects from the Government an attitude "of informing the citizens and not of confusing them regarding what is happening within the Council."
It was Kast himself who hardened the tone: "The Government begins campaigning against the constitutional project, lying and misinforming, seeking – with the complicity of the media – to divert attention from the approval of key regulations on immigration. The immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants is a radical change," the leader of the Republicans wrote on his Twitter account.
Boric, whose Administration gambled to approve the text that citizens rejected outright (62%) in September 2022, tried to put cold cloths from New York: "You will not find an antagonist in me. I want the Council to do well, for Chile to have a new Constitution. I don't want polarization or making the mistakes we made in the first process." After four years of uncertainty in constitutional matters – the constituent route was opened after the social outbreak of October 2019 – the leftist administration does not want to deal with another failure that frustrates the objective of a transversal political pact. It is not obvious, in any case, what the final decision of the ruling party will be in the face of the plebiscite, among other things because the text is not finished.
Meanwhile, more citizens are opting to vote against the proposal in the December 17 plebiscite. The rejection option has never been higher, according to polls (57%, Cadem; 45% Criteria; 68%, Black & White).