Thursday, October 21

The constituent convention that a new Chile will have to write starts up | International

Former Congress building, where a new Chilean constitution will be written, in Santiago.
Former Congress building, where a new Chilean constitution will be written, in Santiago.IVAN ALVARADO / Reuters

The 155-member Chilean constitutional convention, which will have a maximum of 365 days to draft a new Constitution, was installed this Sunday in Chile. It has done so with two hours of delay, due to the confusing incidents that have been registered outside the headquarters of the Congress in Santiago, the capital, with clashes between groups of protesters and Carabineros, which caused the interruption of the ceremony even with shouts of some conventional that lamented the police repression. Despite a start that was described as a sad spectacle, the organ has assumed its functions in a ceremony led by the impeccable performance of the secretary of the Elections Qualifying Court, Carmen Gloria Valladares, against the backdrop of high citizen expectations, nervousness and deep distrust towards institutions, the political class and the different sectors of society.

The convention will be made up of 155 members, elected in mid-May. As never before in the world, women and men are represented equally (77 and 78, respectively). It has a second peculiarity: the 17 seats reserved for the 10 original nations, the largest number ever established internationally for indigenous peoples in an assembly of this type. With a cornered right, the center-left diminished and the strong irruption of the independent left, the constituents will have a maximum year to agree on a new text that allows Chile to channel its political, institutional and social crisis that threatens its path to development.

Some representatives, such as the academic Agustín Squella, arrived alone in the gardens of the Congress headquarters. But many arrived accompanied by their companions on the list, as did the representatives of the native peoples, who have 17 reserved seats at the convention. The representatives of the Mapuche people, for example, held a traditional ceremony early in the Cerro Santa Lucía, an urban park in the center of the capital. The 27 representatives of the People’s List, a group of independent anti-establishment, called a rally in the place where their organization emerged: Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests. They marched through the center of Santiago, in a call that was authorized by the Government of Sebastián Piñera, despite the complex health situation due to covid-19. These conventionalists not only called to demonstrate, but also to reach the doors of Congress.


It was within the framework of this concentration that incidents took place between the protesters and the Carabineros. Representatives of the People’s List interrupted the start of the ceremony, even shouting at the representative of the Elections Qualifying Court, who had the mission of provisionally heading the convention this Sunday. They left the Congress headquarters claiming police repression, because they argued that the ceremony could not continue under these conditions. While the Communist Youth reported that one of their representatives was attacked by the Carabineros, the police institution indicated that two of its officials were injured. After cross accusations, however, the establishment of the convention continued when the head of ceremony announced that there was neither repression, nor detainees nor injuries. After one o’clock in the afternoon, the 155 constituents assumed their positions, with a joint voice acceptance that all of Chile has been able to observe, through the live broadcasts of all television channels.

Immediately, the 155 representatives began voting to elect their presidency, in the first of the actions to be carried out by the body on this day. It will be the first political signal of the convention, because the presidency has not only symbolic importance, but also immense power in the development of the discussion. Although the election is fully open, there seems to be some consensus that the position should be held by a woman. “It would be a beautiful sign from the people of Chile if the convention is chaired by a Mapuche indigenous woman,” said Elisa Loncón, one of the favorite candidates, in an interview with EL PAÍS. Finally, due to the resistance on the part of the editors, the representatives of any of the three powers of the State were not present at the ceremony.

In Chile there is talk of a historic day, because with the assumption of the convention an important and complex year begins, in which 155 constituents of different origins, with high atomization and the diminished right, will have to agree on a new Constitution that will be submitted to a plebiscite in the second half of 2022. But to get to this Sunday, July 4, a long process had to go through. The current Constitution dates from 1980, during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, although formally the fundamental letter has the signature of the socialist Ricardo Lagos, who in 2005 made important reforms to some of the authoritarian points. Since the late 1980s, fifty modifications have been applied to the current Constitution, both at the end of the dictatorship and in successive democratic governments. In October 2019, when Chilean democracy was in danger in the framework of social unrest, the political class as a whole gave an institutional solution to the conflict by offering a constituent process. The exception was the Communist Party.

Since in mid-May the citizens elected the 155 constituents, with only 43.41% citizen participation, the political environment has been marked by tension. At the beginning of June, 34 of them proposed six “democratic guarantees” for the operation of the convention, in which they state that the body should not be subordinated to the norms agreed by the political class on November 15, 2019, which made the process possible. . “We call to make effective the popular sovereignty of the constituent, expressed both in the regulations and in the regulations that must be given, without subordinating ourselves to an Agreement for Peace that the peoples never signed,” said this group of independents, of the native peoples. and from the People’s List, an anti-capitalist movement that reached 25 seats. It is one of the issues that will begin to be resolved from this Sunday in Chile: if the majority of the convention is about to respect certain agreements, such as a two-thirds quorum to approve certain constitutional norms.

Chile will begin to redefine itself on fundamental issues. The convention will discuss its political regime and government system, because there is some consensus that the Chilean-style presidentialism – exacerbated, even in the Latin American context – showed deficiencies with the revolts of October 2019. Decentralization and regionalization will be discussed in a unitary state and strongly centralized in the capital, like the Chilean one. The 155 constituents must agree on different issues related to indigenous peoples, such as their express recognition in the Constitution or multinationality, which would imply self-determination. It is a central issue, given the historical relationship problems between the Mapuche people and the Chilean State, which keep the Araucanía area in a centuries-old conflict. The constituent body will discuss the economic development model, the fate of institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the State model – economic and social rights are hot debates – and issues that are especially sensitive for markets, such as the autonomy of the Central Bank.

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