Chilean Congress to take key role in constitutional process

Santiago, Sep 5 (EFE).- Chile’s Chamber of Deputies, heavily fragmented, and Senate, where the rightist opposition dominates, will take on the key role in continuing the process to draft and approve a new constitution after the result of Sunday’s plebiscite, aided by a government coalition in crisis that appears to be forcing President Gabriel Boric to undertake a difficult revamping of his cabinet.

This is how the Monday meeting called by Boric with the heads of the Senate and lower house – socialist Alvaro Elizalde and Democracy Party (PPD) leader Raul Soto, respectively – ended.

The PPD arose during the “Concertacion,” which governed Chile during the transition to democracy from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, which drafted and implemented the constitution which is currently in place.

It was a meeting called by Boric to discuss the results of the nationwide plebiscite on Sunday on the new constitutional draft, a vote in which an overwhelming majority of Chileans – almost 62 percent – voted to reject the new charter.

The president “asked those of us in the National Congress to develop a dialogue that will allow establishing an institutional path to move forward on the constitutional process,” Elizalde said after the close of the meeting.

“In that context, along with the president of the Chamber (of Deputies), this week we will convene all the political parties with parliamentary representation … and we’ll also listen to other social movements and representatives of civil society with the aim of fostering a dialogue that will allow us, in the shortest possible time, to provide certainty to Chile,” he said.

The socialist went on to say that the dialogue must be “cross-cutting and inclusive,” adding that “the government will participate” in it and expressing his desire for the institutional itinerary to be defined before Sept. 11, the 49th anniversary of the 1973 coup d’etat that toppled the democratically elected government of socialist Salvador Allende, ushering in the Pinochet dictatorship.

“In democracy, the voice of the people is respected, is adhered to, and so we have to foster an inclusive dialogue that incorporates all viewpoints and to channel the constitutional process and, simultaneously, the government must continue pursuing its own tasks to govern,” he said.

“In that context, Congress must have a constructive attitude incorporating the legitimate viewpoints of the different actors because, among other things, we have to build a better Chile respecting a basic principle, the leading role of the citizenry,” he concluded.

Along the same lines, Soto, whose party is located in the political center, said that “a great cross-cutting accord is needed for the reunification of Chile.”

“That accord must be rooted in the conversations that will be launched in the coming days in the National Congress. We’re going to work together, the Chamber of Deputies with the Senate, and in close coordination with the Executive (branch) because we understand that at a time of political and social fragility, the institutions must work in a coordinated way,” he said.

Neither Elizalde nor Soto were willing to reveal what the roadmap toward an agreement would look like, whether a new constitutional convention with members elected by public plebiscite would be convened to draft a text like the one that was rejected on Sunday, or whether a mixed text would be prepared including input from experts and lawmakers, as some political parties are proposing.

“We must create a consensus that effectively allows us to establish a constitutional roadmap with a new entity. This agreement is to see how that constitutional process will be crafted, how this entity will be constructed, the rules of the game and the time periods,” he said.

According to the Ipsos public survey firm, 39 percent of Chileans are in favor of the president holding a new plebiscite so that the public can select the constitutional mechanism, 30 percent prefer having the political parties determine the method and 24 percent consider drafting a new constitution to be unnecessary.

The firm also said that 41 percent of those surveyed want to create a Committee of Experts, 26 percent prefer a Mixed Convention made up of lawmakers and experts, 15 percent want another 100 percent elected convention and just 11 percent want Congress to fashion a new constitutional draft.

In that regard, Boric on Monday called the parties within the government coalition and the opposition to La Moneda, but the latter declined to participate and demanded that he “admit defeat” and make changes in his cabinet.

“Recently, there has been a rumor of the possibility of a change in the cabinet. We want to know who will be the interlocutors with those we’re going to have to speak with in the coming days and, in addition, the government also has to reflect internally. We do, too,” said Sen. Francisco Chahuan, one of the leaders of the rightist Chile Vamos coalition.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jose Manuel Rojo Edwards and former presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast, who represent the most radical rightist grouping, pushed for Boric’s resignation, given that – as Rojo Edwards said – “he cannot lead an alleged Convention 2.0, (and) in the future the big social and constitutional changes must be discussed in Congress.”

The Party of the People supports a constitutional process to be pursued within Congress, which weeks ago decided to eliminate the 2/3 rule for approving laws, reducing the threshold to 4/7, or 57 percent of legislators.

EFE jm/ssb/eat/bp

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