Weekly Report - 09 March 2023 (WR-23-10)

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CHILE: Constitutional fatigue setting in?

The second attempt in just over two years to launch major constitutional reform kicked off on 6 March, with the inauguration of a 24-strong committee of experts. This time, the process looks like being significantly more consensual and moderate, and possibly duller. Success is still far from guaranteed.

Chilean news portal Ex-Ante sought to highlight the contrast between two dates: 4 July 2021 and 6 March 2023. The former saw the nearly riotous inauguration of the elected, 155-strong constitutional convention. There were demonstrations and arguments inside and outside. Radical members of the convention refused to sing the national anthem.

This week, in contrast, there were only a few demonstrators outside. Inside the tone was much more austere, sober, and focused. The national anthem was played. Earlier the justice minister, Luis Cordero, commented “we are probably going to have a boring constitutional reform process, and if it does turn out that way, that could be a good thing”.

What is certainly clear is that this time the process, negotiated by the political parties, is heavily engineered to prevent any surprises. In the first attempt in 2021-2022 the constitutional convention was dominated by left-wingers and independents with radical ideas and limited constitutional experience. As a result, a lot of the work was broad-brushed, hurried, and short on details, with big gaps left to be filled in by future law-making. The convention’s radical ideas on indigenous rights, justice, the environment, and decentralisation appeared to be increasingly out of step with public opinion. Last September the draft constitution was rejected by a clear 62.5% majority in a nationwide referendum.

This time around the process has been turned upside down. The 24 members sitting on the committee of experts have been selected by the two chambers of congress and represent a balance principally between centre-right and centre-left. Their main job is intended to be technocratic: to agree an entire constitutional draft within the next three months, and well in advance of any more political discussions to be held by a 50-strong constitutional council which is set to be elected on 14 May.

There are two other safety mechanisms in place. The committee of experts will be bound by a declaration of 12 guiding principles, negotiated by the political parties last January [WR-23-02], which commits them to define Chile as a “rights based social and democratic state”. It recognises indigenous rights but only within the framework of a “single Chilean nation” (thereby rejecting the plurinationality favoured in the first reform).

These principles also uphold a bicameral legislature, limiting earlier attempts to eliminate the senate. The second safety mechanism is a 14-member committee of jurists which will have task of ensuring consistency between different constitutional rules.

A total of 21 out of the 24 experts are lawyers; among the remaining three are a journalist, an economist, and a sociologist. According to Domingo Lovera, a constitutional lawyer chosen by Revolución Democrática (RD), a member of the ruling coalition, “Our job is to supply the constitutional council, which is the main protagonist in this process, with a complete constitutional draft. The council will decide which clauses it believes are good and to be adopted, which it will reject, and which it will amend. It has those three possibilities.”      

The final draft will be submitted to a referendum on 17 December. Success is far from a given, judging by recent opinion polls. Marco Moreno, a political scientist at Universidad Central said “citizens are suffering a kind of constitutional fatigue, they are tired of the whole process, and specially the excesses during the first attempt”. He went on to say that citizens are currently more preoccupied with issues such as security, public order, migration, and the economy.


According to polling company Pulso Ciudadano, in February 57% of respondents said they had no or little confidence in the constitutional reform process, up by 2.3 percentage points on the previous month. Of the other respondents, 16.7% said they had a lot of confidence in the process, while 26.2% said they had ‘medium confidence’.

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