Chile’s constitutional convention: internal fights, slander campaigns

By Maria M. Mur

Santiago, Apr 12 (EFE).- The convention that is drafting a new constitution for Chile got under way eight months ago amid great expectations, but recently those hopes have been deflated and currently the conclave is going through a delicate period of internal fights and bitter debates along with a campaign to discredit the process launched by certain sectors fearful of seeing the status quo upended.

Alarms began sounding last week when three surveys put figures to the reduction in public confidence in the convention and, for the first time, gave the option to reject the new charter in the Sept. 4 plebiscite a good chance of winning.

The Cadem survey once again on Sunday reflected the fact that a plurality, this time of 44 percent, of the people polled said that they intended to vote to “reject” the charter while 39 percent said they’d “approve” it.

Members of the convention are concerned about the situation as are the government and former Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet.

President Gabriel Boric said last week that the surveys “are a wakeup call for all of us who trust in this process” and the doubts among the public about the convention “cannot be ignored.”

The constitutional drafting process was initiated by the political class to channel the serious 2019 protests against the unequal neoliberal model set up during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and reinforced in the current constitution.

The election of the 155 members of the constitutional convention, most of the progressive independents, was a process praised by many that included criteria for creating parity between men and women, an unprecedented step in the region, as well as reserving special seats for the country’s indigenous peoples.

Since then, the recent trend in the convention – which has until July 4 to finish drafting the new text and needs more than 2/3 of the votes to approve any element within it – has been for heated debates broadcast live into the wee hours of the morning.

Claudia Heiss, with the University of Chile, told EFE that Chileans are not used to these types of political discussions “without partisan discipline and with high fragmentation,” and thus the belief prevails that there are internal fights going on and a general lack of agreement.

“They are people without any affiliation, who came with specific agendas on the environment or sexual equality and who don’t have a position on everything. This makes it much more difficult to reach agreements, but it enriches the debate and citizen representation in the future text,” Heiss said.

“We’re experiencing democracy in real time,” Julieta Suarez-Cao, with the Catholic University, told EFE, adding that a campaign to discredit the convention is ongoing with “constant” attacks and the spreading of fake news on the social networks.

Commenting along the same lines to EFE was Jeanne Simon, with the Political Scientists Network, who said that “Fake news is going to last until the plebiscite because there are many interests in play and the ‘establishment’ is uneasy, above all on the matter of property law and protection of environmental resources.”

Although it has been amended more than 50 times since Chile regained its democracy in 1990, the current constitution was inspired by the so-called Chicago Boys, a group of ultraliberal disciples of US economist Milton Friedman who fostered the privatization of services such as water, pensions and healthcare.

A large portion of society saw the constitutional process as an opportunity to change the current subsidiary role of the state, a vision that is shared by Boric.

The right, which only managed to get 37 seats on the convention, feels excluded from some negotiations and vehemently criticizes proposals like eliminating the Senate, plurinationality and lessening the powers of the presidency.

Kenneth Bunker, the head of the Tresquintos survey firm, said that “The convention’s problem is that it’s an echo chamber where criticism is not heard” and where the fights are going on among the left “because the right doesn’t have the ability to influence” things.

Even so, Bunker told EFE that there’s still time to include “discontented” sectors so that the option to “approve” the resulting constitutional draft will gain sway among the public.

Claudio Alvarado, with the Institute for Studies of Society, does not agree, telling EFE that “There’s no reason to think that Chile is exempt from surprises like Brexit, considering the course that the convention has taken, distancing itself from the big majorities.”

In recent weeks, the possibility of including a third option for all those who want a constitutional change but do not approve of the convention’s work has entered the debate.

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