Chile’s Constitutional Convention Picks Up Speed

A member of the Chilean Constitutional Convention attending a session. Photo: Reuers

By Cecilia Roman (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – Time is running out for Chile’s constitutional process. After an initial semester full of innovative symbolisms, when the Convention was headed by Mapuche academic Elisa Loncon, the process was passed on January 5th onto dental surgeon Maria Elisa Quintero, who is an independent from Social Movements, and will oversee mostly operative issues.

Quinteros and her vice-president Gaspar Dominguez, a rural doctor and LGTBIQ+ activist from the Independientes No Neutrales collective, want to improve the communications strategy; secondly, to successfully implement indigenous consultations in Chile’s native communities; and thirdly, even the playing field for the popular referendum, when citizens are consulted and have to approve or reject the new Constitution.

The change in the Constitutional Convention’s presidency was preceded by Gabriel Boric’s election as Chile’s new president, which eased tensions existing before the election. People were afraid the victory of far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast would compromise the Convention, which is progressive in its majority.

After his presidential win, Boric said that he didn’t want a “Convention at our Government’s service.” “The Convention extends beyond the current situation, we have demonstrated our absolute respect for the Convention’s autonomy and we are at its disposal to optimize its work,” he said.

This change in Chile’s political landscape has gone hand-in-hand with the first votes by issue oriented committees.

The Political System Committee, responsible for outlining the profile of the political system Chile has as soon as the new Constitution is approved, for example, has already made three important resolutions.

Firstly, the Left and center-Left unanimously voted in favor of consecrating Chile as a “multinational and multicultural country” in the new Carta Magna. A majority also voted for a formula that seeks to dilute the characteristics of presidential rule and to consecrate parity of representation of the president and vice-president; and thirdly, the vision of some of the center-Left and Left was imposed, by a single vote, eliminating the Senate, thereby ending the tradition of a bicameral Congress.

“We’ve taken the first step today towards ending the Senate, an institution that has embodied a policy of an elitist and exclusive democracy. Towns are leading the way, democratizing political institutions and giving way to the historic opportunity for the power structure to be more horizontal, parity and multinational,” psychologst and Social Movements member, Alondra Carrillo, celebrated.

However, this has yet to be written into the new Constitution. Chile’s Constitutional Committee’s seven thematic committees have started voting on “general” proposals in recent weeks, which means that only a dialogue can be established.

Later, there will be an item-by-item vote, when every detail of every clause will be meticulously studied and ammendments will be voted in. After that, everything that has been approved will be passed onto the Constitutional Committee, where the 154 committee members need to approve or reject it, and only what receives 103 votes of their support (a quorum of 2/3) will be written into the new Constitution. The first of these plenary sessions has been scheduled for February 15th.

Constitutional Committee makes headway consecrating rights

Citizen-led initiatives also join this pile of proposals, and they need to receive at least 15,000 signatures for the Constitutional Committee to process them. One of the first of these initiatives to reach this number of signatures is called the “Sera Ley” and will seek to guarantee women’s free and universal access to safe abortions, in the new Constitution.

“We are very happy because an institution is finally going to make it possible for the historic women’s movement to consecrate our sexual and reproductive rights in this new Constitution,” social worker and independent committee member Janis Meneses said during a discussion.

There are over 50 citizen-led initiatives that have already reached over 15,000 signatures, these include: a proposal to guarantee quality education; another that wants to consecrate the Central Bank’s autonomy; another is requesting that the right to private property is guaranteed; and there is one called “Cannabis to the Constitution”, that asks for the State to respect personal consumption of “plant-based or synthethic psychoactives.”

All of the committees are involved in the discussion process of these laws, and some that have already been approved on the whole include the proposal to move away from a single State and turn Chile into a “regional State,” with regional legislative assemblies, – something like small parliaments in every region – others that design the framework of a new Judicial Power; and others that consecrate a new catalog of rights regarding Nature, culture and heritage, etc.

Meanwhile, as the Convention’s work is scheduled to be concluded by July 4th, committee members have inevitably been forced into entering an informal conversation about the possibility of having a couple more months to conclude the process with greater means to discuss its content.


This article was originally published on democraciaAbierta.

Read more from Chile here on Havana Times.