“This was an exercise in listening and sitting down at the table with those who had grievances with the social order.”
By Maria Arriagada (El Mostrador)
HAVANA TIMES – With just a week left before the plebiscite to Approve or Reject the Constitutional proposal on Sunday, September 4, Carolina Toha* doesn’t understand the center left’s trust that a Reject victory will lead to a new Constitutional proposal. The politician was a member of Michelle Bachelet’s Cabinet in 2009 during her first term in office, and former Mayor of Santiago (2012-2016). She is mystified how anyone can believe that the right will actually back the drafting of a new Constitution if the Reject option wins.
“These are people from the Center Left who have experienced years of Parliament’s blockade of any efforts to make changes. I can’t understand what they’re looking at when they trust that the right will open the doors that they’ve always kept closed off against such changes.”
Toha added: “We have no certainty what road awaits us if the Reject option wins.”
You’ve been one of the leaders of the Approve campaign. What would you say to someone who’s still doubtful?
The Constitutional proposal assumes the need to have a State that responds and is responsible to the citizens. The sensation of a powerless government, one that passes its responsibilities on to other bodies, is at the heart of the difficulty. The government can act together with other entities; it can join together with private parties, make alliances, but what it can’t do is wash its hands of the problems.
Is it a text based on the revenge? [as the Reject campaign alleges]
I’d invite you to read it. Clearly, it’s a document that represents the construction of a path towards a more equitable, inclusive, and respectful society. Drafting it [over a year] involved an exercise in listening and sitting down at the table with those who had grievances against the current social order. It’s immature to think that you could skip over that step, and I see some attempts to do just that. Further, they’re claiming that it would be a different process now, with a perfection based on keeping away from the table the sectors who sat down there for the first time. That road isn’t going to lead us to healing the wounds of the past.
But critics say it was written out of anger…
The Constitutional process sought to serve as a response to the rage that was expressed very clearly in the  social explosion. It’s a complete illusion to think that the act of sitting down at the table to work out the text of a new Constitution was going to calm that rage, from one moment to the next. This is a path. I think it’s a mature way of confronting the divides we have, and that the responses offered in the Constitutional text point in the right direction.
There are those who have accused the independent delegates and those representing social movements of causing fragmentation and lack of consensus among the full body present at the Constitutional Convention. How would you include them in a scenario where the Reject option prevails and a new Constitutional Convention is called for?
I don’t have a blueprint for how to continue a process if the Reject option wins. I’m committed and convinced that the Approve vote is the road that will best allow us to advance. However, this isn’t only a problem for the electoral system. We had to assume responsibility for the fact that the political system by itself wasn’t in condition to bring society together for a new pact.
There [in the Convention] we managed to welcome all the voices, hold a dialogue. Despite all the difficulties – the tension of the process, and the wounds – we succeeded in forging a document within the required deadline that’s a more than reasonable Carta Magna. I’m not just me saying this: that’s what the Constitutional experts inside and outside of Chile have declared.
In terms of the topics that may be raising concerns – and I have some issues that the text didn’t resolve satisfactorily – a trustworthy road has been established for resolving them. In contrast, to turn back the clock and begin from zero, while putting on the table alternatives like leaving out the badly-named “noisy” sectors” – I don’t believe for one moment that’s a sure path. I think it poses enormous risks, and it’s also very probable that it would take us a great deal of work to come to an agreement about what the path is.
There’s been criticism of the right for not presenting an agreed-upon road map for the next steps if the Reject option should win. They haven’t been clear if they’d support calling for a new Constitutional Convention, and if so, what its make-up would be. Do you think that’s a mistake?
More than a lack of information, they have no path to propose. That’s why they’re not giving out any information about it. I believe it’s great that the Approve option is offering a document and has done everything possible so that people can become familiar with it. In addition, the parties in the Approve camp made and signed an agreement regarding the reforms to the draft they’ll promote after passage.
In the case of Reject, it’s true that they were able to lower the quorum for reforming the current Constitution to 4/7. However, even with the new quorum, it all still depends on the Right. The Right hasn’t even defined whether it favors undertaking the reforms in Congress, convoking a Convention or forming a commission of experts. The commitments they’ve made are absolutely vague.
Has this Constitutional proposal caused a split in the former Concertation [Coalition of Parties for Democracy, which functioned from 1988-2013]?
The Democratic Socialist pact and all the parties from the former Concertation are all in the Approve campaign. There are some individuals that are in the Reject camp, but the majority of them have assumed a more centrist critical stance for a long time now. More than a division of center left political forces, these are individuals who crossed over to the other side.