Tuesday, May 24

The first week of the Chilean convention marked by trial and error | International

Elisa Loncón (d), president of the Constitutional Convention, in the old National Congress, in Santiago (Chile).
Elisa Loncón (d), president of the Constitutional Convention, in the old National Congress, in Santiago (Chile).Elvis González / EFE

The first week of operation of the Chilean convention, which will have a maximum of one year to draft a new Constitution, has been marked by a difficult installation. The 155 conventionals assumed their positions last Sunday, in a ceremony that was suspended for a few hours due to conflicts in the streets, and they were 48 hours late in starting their work due to the lack of technical support in the building in downtown Santiago. where they should meet. The Government of Sebastián Piñera, charged by law with “providing the technical, administrative and financial support that is necessary for the installation and operation of the convention”, replaced the executive secretary Francisco Encina, who had months to have everything ready for the start of the organ. The constituents were only able to meet on Wednesday, in different rooms to respect the maximum capacity due to the covid-19 health crisis.

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The Chilean convention is dominated by the left-wing opposition, which has been evident in its first hours of operation. In a candidacy promoted by the conventional Mapuche, the Socialists and the Frente Amplio, the convention elected the academic Elisa Loncón as president. With the support in the second round of the Communist Party and the People’s List –27 independent anti-capitalist system– the Mapuche linguist comfortably reached 95 votes. The vice presidency remained in the hands of the constitutional lawyer Jaime Bassa, from the Broad Front, a political force similar to Podemos in Spain that managed to install his two letters at the table of the constituent body. Although he made an alliance with the Communist Party to run for the convention and his candidates for La Moneda will be measured in primaries in a week – the deputy Gabriel Boric and the mayor Daniel Jadue -, both left forces have shown differences in the first hours of the convention, as in candidacies for the presidency. The Broad Front, in any case, with 21 seats triples the number of conventional ones to the Communists, which has seven representatives.

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A second sample of the power of the left in the constituent body was the statement issued on Thursday, the last of the two days where the convention was held, waiting to resume work next Tuesday. With the vote in favor of 105 of the 155 conventionalists, it approved a declaration requesting pardon for those detained in the framework of the social uprisings of October 2019 and for the “Mapuche political prisoners” since 2001, imprisoned in the context of the conflict by the lands in the Araucanía region. “The violence that accompanied the events of October was a consequence of the fact that the constituted powers were unable to open an opportunity for us to create a new Constitution and today that we are beginning the work of the convention they must take charge of that”, indicates the declaration that was rejected on the right and some of the moderate mainstreams.

Although congressional leaders such as the Christian Democratic senator Yasna Provoste and the pro-government deputy Diego Paulsen had called to “respect the democratic institutionality”, the text adds: “The constitutional convention, without pretending to interfere or arrogate the competences or attributions of other powers of the State, it has the political responsibility to speak out against the country in relation to these contingent situations that clearly contravene the spirit that guides its work: to establish a path of peace and social justice for all and all the inhabitants of our political community ”. Currently, Parliament is discussing a bill that seeks the pardon of the prisoners of the outbreak, although the Supreme Court has not yet delivered its report where it clarifies this condition and the crimes for which they are deprived of liberty.

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The declaration has stirred Chilean politics. For Marcela Cubillos, one of the conventional leaders of the right, “the statement issued by the majority of the convention in defense of those responsible for the violence was not a mere statement as some argue. The text is clear and says that’s why we demand to the different powers of the State. Acting de facto as sovereigns ”. The text, however, was even supported by some center-left constituents, such as the journalist Patricia Politzer. “It was an unavoidable issue to start working properly,” said the member of Independientes No Neutrales. Rodrigo Rojas Vade, from the People’s List, pushes the measure: “I don’t know how autonomous the Judicial Power is when the judicial career is through political appointments.”

The work of the president and vice president, meanwhile, has not been left out of the controversy, due to the claims of the same conventional ones by the voting system. After the discussion on the need to expand the board of directors, Bassa admitted errors in the leadership, which the constitutionalist attributed to the absence of regulations, which must be worked on by the same body in the coming weeks. “We have no rules at the moment for voting. We are doing a learning process of trial and error ”, assured the lawyer of the Broad Front.

With a work against the clock, because the constitutional text will be submitted to a plebiscite in the second half of 2022, there are concerns from different sectors. For Agustín Squella, academic and independent essayist, conventional for Valparaíso, “the contingency can end up devouring the constitutional convention.” In the same direction, the former president of Uruguay, José Mujica, assured a Chilean newspaper: “I am afraid that the convention will be a bag of cats.”

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