Can We Forge a United Chile for Democracy?

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – The recent registration of candidate lists to elect members of the new Constitutional Council, on May 7th, is definitely good news for those of us who still believe in a new social pact for the country, after centuries of anti-democratic constitutions.

While all of the parties that form the government coalition didn’t agree on a common list – despite many efforts to present a single list of progressive forces (Unidad para Chile), the most important thing about this year of constitutional debate is to achieve a unity that is more cross-cutting ideologically-speaking, that keeps democracy at its heart.

This considering not only the Chilean people’s overwhelming rejection of the constitution proposed last year, but also their low evaluation of democracy, which according to the Center of Public Studies’ (CEP) survey, only 49% believe that democracy is better than another form of government and 19% believe that an authoritarian government is better in certain circumstances (1).

Thus, disengagement is becoming a lot more structural and dangerous than a mere rejection of political parties, so it is our responsibility at this point in time to have an organized, serious constitutional process that can return a certain level of value to democracy. Therefore, it is crucial that left-wing parties that form part of the process not only clearly show a harmonious coexistence, but also that they are open to entering a dialogue with more moderate right-wing groups.

We should not forget what happened last year, when driving forces for change within the Constitutional Convention literally refused any chance to enter a conversation with the Right, which ultimately worked in the conservative far-Right’s favor, who has never interested in passing a new Constitution that would cast aside a carta magna forged under a bloody civil-military regime, which has divided the country for decades.

What’s more, the Republican Party will soon commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup d’etat in Chile, and will surely unashamedly defend Pinochet, as an anti-communist rebel, so their growth really does depend on what is rejected again in the constitutional text, as it will capitalize on this failure to make it work in its own favor.

Regarding other parties that will be present in the new Constitutional Council for sure, such as the case of Party of the People, while they don’t have the Republican Party’s dogmatic bigotry, it is an unpredictable and populist party, which can make any deal so they can win more votes, and they are a threat at a time where citizens hold democracy in very low esteem.

That said, the contributions new constituent assembly advisors make will be key, but not enough, if they are unable to not be seduced by the far-Right, who will come swiftly, like they did in the previous process, and do a lot of damage with fake news and apocalyptical views on what is being approved by the Constitutional Convention.

Nevertheless, it’s also important to appeal to different media platforms, so they understand this time the public role they have in society, as the country’s democracy is at stake and not a battle between enemies to the death, especially in a year as symbolic as this one for Chile. As a result, we hope they leave this TV show behind and create real educational programs instead.    

Meanwhile, the contribution social movements have made in Chile in the past 20 years, when it comes to mobilizing, organizing, and articulating different historic demands (feminist, social-environmental, anti-colonial, student, trade unions) can’t be questioned. However, September 4th last year showed us a Chile many of us didn’t want to see, full of fear of change and with a neoliberal bias that we thought had been weakened by the social uprising in 2019.

In other words, we were talking to ourselves and patting each other on the back, approving articles that many of us dreamed of and were completely progressive, even more so than any other constitution in the world. However, they were disconnected from the masses, who never followed what we believed in.

That said, we need a constitution that isn’t avant-garde, but at the rearguard, that deals with the Chilean people’s fears and discomforts, but we will only be able to do this if we put unity above our own ideological ideals, so that 2023 will be remembered as the year Chile voted for more democracy in the country.

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