Chileans divided over draft constitution ahead of Sunday referendum

Santiago, Aug 31 (EFE).- Although Chileans broadly favor replacing the current dictatorship-era constitution that dates back to 1980, a draft charter that will be put to a plebiscite on Sunday has divided the country into opposing camps.

The outcome of that mandatory referendum, meanwhile, is very much in doubt.

While several polls in recent weeks give the edge to the “no” camp, Communist Party lawmaker Karol Cariola said she is optimistic the text will be approved.

The new constitution sets out principles that include “the recovery of natural (resources) like water, the protection of rivers, (rights to) health care, education, housing, pension and the recognition of domestic work, which women mainly perform,” the lawmaker told Efe.

“There’s a process here that was established democratically, with gender parity (in the allocation of seats), (which) many women today are strongly demanding because it’s about understanding us as peers, equals to men, who (for their part) have … enjoyed privileges that are the product of a patriarchal system. But today we’re starting to level the playing field.”

Among other things, the charter has come under criticism for allegedly failing to address Chile’s public safety problems, a key voter concern due to higher violent crime rates.

Cariola, however, said the root cause of the nation’s security issues is the “type of society we’ve been building.”

“A society without opportunities, where what appears to prevail is violence. Those are situations of social insecurity that lead to (violent crime),” she said. “People have a right to live a life free of violence and this constitution enshrines that right.”

“It’s a step forward in recognizing that all people, regardless of their social background and where they live, have that right (to public safety). The lack of territorial equality in the distribution of resources also is one of (Chile’s) problems. And this addresses that by establishing an equitable distribution of police forces,” the lawmaker added.

But Claudio Salinas, a former member of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party and spokesman for a coalition of social organizations that reject the proposed charter, says it is lacking in checks and balances and would limit individual freedoms and give the state too much power over ordinary citizens.

Salinas said the Constitutional Convention that spent a year drafting the text “did not listen to the citizenry.”

“We took part in public hearings in which there was a quite random and questionable mechanism for defining who the participating organizations were. We proposed that more than 50 organizations be a part of those hearings and only two or three were selected,” he told Efe.

The conservative spokesman said those groups introduced initiatives on matters related to public safety, health care, education and pensions, but “regrettably they were all rejected by the Convention” and some were not even voted on by the full body.

The proposed constitution lacks the “checks and balances that are essential for a stable democracy,” Salinas said, adding that it would eliminate institutions like the Senate, strip the office of the presidency of numerous powers and create a Chamber of Regions,” a new legislative body with limited authority.

“The most serious flaw is that it takes certain freedoms away from citizens. A constitution should lay out the general guidelines on which we’ll continue working and ensure citizens that the state won’t trample all over us,” he added.

One of the most significant changes the new constitution would bring about is a transition from a subsidiary state – one that fills voids not addressed by the private sector – to a “welfare state” that ensures universal access to quality public services.

Cariola said a scenario of “total uncertainty” would ensue if the proposed constitution is rejected in the referendum, but Salinas argued that the constituent process would continue and that a broad political agreement would need to be reached as soon as possible to bring about the changes the country needs.

The process of drafting a new charter was triggered by a massive wave of protests against inequality that erupted in late 2019 and left more than 30 dead and thousands injured.

The 154-seat Constitutional Convention, which met for the first time on July 4, 2021, and ended its functions a year later, was made up of an equal number of men and women.

Seventeen of the body’s seats also were set aside for members of indigenous groups. EFE

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