On Sunday, December 17, Chileans rejected the proposal of a new Constitution for the second time. The rejected constitution would have replaced the charter dating back to 1980; approved under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and slightly reformed at the end of his term of office in 1989. Subsequently, in 2005, significant changes were made under the government of former President Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), including the disappearance of Pinochet's signature and his own.
Of the nearly 15 and a half million Chileans eligible to vote, 84.5% voted; 55.76% of the votes were "Against" the constitutional proposal, while the alternative "In favour" obtained only 44.24% of the votes. With a difference of 11.46%, it translates to 1,423,545 votes.
The result has given a respite to the government of President Gabriel Boric. Weakened by the two previous electoral defeats, Boric’s presidency has been marked by a security, migratory, and economic crisis; along with a political crisis due to several scandals of misuse of public resources by officials of his coalition parties. Added to this is the fact that despite having severely criticised the current Fundamental Charter, he will finally have to continue governing with it.
The drama for the government and the left was summed up very well by former President Michelle Bachelet, who said: that we must choose between "a bad constitution and a lousy one".
Chilean society has been under constitutional stress for the last three years. Starting on October 25, 2020, when - as a consequence of the massive protests of the previous year - they went to the polls to vote for a new Constitution. A historic 78.27% of the votes were cast in favour. In May 2021, 155 Constitutional Convention members were elected, where the centre-left and left obtained an absolute majority, which allowed them to draft a proposal for a Magna Carta that ignored the Chilean political-cultural tradition, erring on the side of maximalism. It was widely rejected in a new vote on September 4, 2022, by 61.86% of the voters.
An agreement of all political forces was then developed, and an election of constitutional councillors supported by the parties was called on May 7 2023. Surprisingly, the right and the extreme right obtained an absolute majority of the 50 constituents that had been agreed upon and who would have the task of proposing a Constitution supported by a group of experts. For the government and its parties, this result was devastating. However, the same mistakes that the left had made were repeated by the right wing, which, making use of the majority it had, refused in the end to agree on a text that would satisfy the left and centre-left minority. The recent proposal (December 17 2023) by Chileans established constitutionally neo-liberal principles in economic and conservative in value terms, far from the current reality of Chilean society.
With this result, the 1980 Constitution will remain in force, who knows till when, but the issue will not be raised again at least until the end of President Boric's government. That was the agreement taken by the governing political parties before this last election. The big losers are all of them. The right-wing parties and in particular the Republican Party, which, although at the beginning had opposed a new Constitution, finally joined the process and surprisingly became the majority, by obtaining the highest number of constitutional advisors. Thus, they were able to drag the more liberal sectors that ended up joining the cause led by the Republicans. In short, it was demonstrated that the so-called "centre right" always ends up folding to the hardest right, incapable of becoming independent and transforming itself into a modern alternative.
The Republican leader, José Antonio Kast, who is projected as a presidential candidate, will now have to reevaluate his strategy and that of the sector to which he belongs to define a path if he intends to be a government alternative, given that there is fertile ground for populism. The left and the centre-left do not have it easy either. Defeated with their constitutional proposal, they will have to govern with the 1980 proposal.
Boric spoke after the results were known, indicating that the constitutional process was closed, since "the urgencies are others", and called the right wing to open up in agreements on the real issues that matter to the people: security, pensions, health, housing and several others. Unable to pass laws, since he does not have a parliamentary majority, he is forced to negotiate with the right wing, which has closed many doors. This has weakened the government, adding to its own management mistakes.
Chile has lost the opportunity to have "the house of all", of which so much has been said for more than four decades. The mistakes of the left and the right have exhausted the patience of the people who are tired of the previous years where the constitutional issue has been at the top of the agenda and political discussions, but far from the people. Chile will continue to be governed by a Constitution that, although reformed, maintains enclaves that are immovable for a right-wing that has never wanted to give the votes to change them, such as the principle of subsidiarity or private rights over water - traces of the four generals who governed Chile for 17 years and that remain in the current Charter.