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Tragedy, comedy, extravagance: on the Chilean constitutional process


Highlights: In 2021, after the social outbreak of October 2019, Chile began a process of constitutional change. In May 2023, 51 constitutional councillors were elected, who were to draft a new constitution. The result was disastrous: 62% of the 13 of almost 15 million voters rejected the proposed constitution. Now the center-right is co-opted by extremely conservative constitutional amendments that are already being voted on by the full Council. The problem is that nobody really wants the Approve option to end up being defeated.

Just as the center-left ended up being dragged by the far left into foolish positions, now it is the center-right that is co-opted by highly conservative constitutional amendments.

There is no better phrase, for its eloquence, than the one coined by Marx at the beginning of Louis Bonaparte's 18th Brumaire: "History happens twice, the first as a great tragedy and the second as a miserable farce." Through it, Marx sought to compare in a parodic way the real coup of Napoleon Bonaparte of 1799 that ended the French Revolution, with that other coup, formally similar but of inferior status, led by his nephew Napoleon III Bonaparte in 1851. Being a great phrase, it is not easy to find two events that are at its height.

Well, the process of Chilean constitutional change comes as a ring to the finger to this phrase. In 2021, after the social outbreak of October 2019, Chile began a process of constitutional change (preceded by an entry plebiscite in October 2020, favorable to the change of Constitution) whose first episode was an election of 155 constitutional conventions in the month of May of that year. These elections were won by various leftist lists, where one of them, of ultra characteristics (the People's List), together with various conventional ones from the social movements, benefited from a strange institutional decision adopted by the parties, which allowed candidates who did not know each other and who did not militate in parties to register lists as if they were parties. A real rarity. For a year, they drafted a long Fundamental Charter in which all kinds of rights were constitutionalized (many of them linked to identities of groups that were humiliated for decades), but also programmatic measures: a real Christmas tree written in the midst of carnival practices and various charivaris, whose reiteration ended up boring an electorate that returned to vote in a mandatory way. Countless intellectuals from the global north saw in the constitutional text everything they would have dreamed of for their own countries, a virtuous Constitution, just as many Chilean intellectuals took a position more romantically than textually. The result was disastrous: 62% of the 13 of almost 15 million voters rejected the proposed constitutional change.

A tragedy

In May 2023, 51 constitutional councillors were elected, who were to draft a new constitution from a draft prepared by a committee composed of 24 experts appointed with the agreement of all political parties. The result of the May 2023 election was the perfect antonym of the elections of two years earlier: the extreme right of the Republican Party burst in with 35% of the votes, a hegemony to which a diminished and terrified traditional right is added like lambs (the expression is not mine, but of the right-wing businessman César Barros). The mirror effect with the previous Constitutional Convention is perfect: just as the center-left ended up being dragged by the extreme left and the conventional social movements towards foolish positions (despite the resistance of the socialists, who were branded as traitors on several occasions), it is now the center-right that is co-opted by extremely conservative constitutional amendments that are already being voted on by the full Council. Constitutional. Although the process has not yet concluded and we still do not have in view the final text that will be addressed again by the Committee of Experts (in which we will no longer observe the same open-minded behavior of the right-wing jurists who made it possible to agree on a minimum constitutional text), the tone and substance of the matter are already installed: The path of rejection is open, and if it were not overwhelmingly supported by Chileans according to polls. It is useless to argue, as does the exconventional Rodrigo Álvarez of the UDI, that it is unfair to compare the first process with the second: the objective is exactly the same, even when the methodology used is different between both processes, where the payaseo of the forms of the first convention is easily compared with the primitivism of the proposals of the current Constitutional Council. in both cases from a marked emphasis on identitarisms and, in the current case, on never-before-seen forms of constitutional populism.

A comedy

All the actors in this second process are aware that success is very uphill. The problem is very simple: nobody really wants to assume the cost of adhering to the Approve option to end up being defeated, and probably annihilated in the exit plebiscite next December. There are many interests at stake, especially for the right: from conquering electoral hegemony in the next local elections of 2024 to betting on a winner in the presidential elections of 2025 (in which the leader of the extreme right José Antonio Kast stopped leading them, being surpassed by the eventual candidate of the traditional right Evelyn Matthei). This could well mean that few, perhaps no one on the right intends to embody the I approve option, despite having the votes to approve any text.

An extravagance

What to do in the face of such a strategic anomaly? In the first place, all political parties should recognize its enormous capacity to be shipwrecked twice before the same rock: the first time it was tragic, the second time it will be comical. Secondly, to take seriously the fact that Chile is becoming a constitutionally eccentric country, on a global scale: I know of no cases where a country that decided to venture into a process of constitutional change fails twice in three years. A record, but one of the bad ones.

But the extravagance doesn't stop there. There is still the possibility, less and less theoretical, that there will be no plebiscite: for what reason? Well, because there could well be the situation, as comfortable as it is very rare, where there is no agreement on a text to be plebiscited, remembering that the plebiscite already has a date and the regulatory body of the elections (Servel) has it completely organized. This would mean that a plebiscite that already has a date... It cannot take place in the absence of agreement on what has to be plebiscited.

If all of the above ends up being true, the semantic scope of the word extravagance will fall short, and Chile will leave behind its serious country scrolls: it will be like coming last in a qualifier, or descending to a lower category in any sports competition.

The problem is that what we are talking about is not sport. At what point did Chile go to hell? An excellent question that had already been posed by my colleague Claudio Fuentes in 2016.

Alfredo Joignant is a sociologist and political scientist and columnist for EL PAÍS

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-09-25

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