Chile: Does approval or rejection win the plebiscite?

Ricardo Israel

The draft already has 499 articles, making it perhaps the largest in the world, more than that of India and its one billion inhabitants. All that is missing is the harmonization commission to ensure internal coherence and will be ready before the deadline, so that it is the electorate that decides for the approval or rejection on 4 September.

Meeting the deadline has been an achievement, since 155 constituents elected on an equal basis and with 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples, obtained for each article the 2/3 required by law. It was an achievement, since a good percentage did not previously master the legal concepts and there was no natural party order, but many collectives and independents predominated.

Nor was there a search for consensus or for a constitution that would be everyone’s home. On the contrary, there was a clear majority, with many to the left even of President Boric, who sought a refoundation of the country, eliminating not only all reference to Pinochet, but also institutions that had been present since 19th century independence, a scenario that was made possible by the almost total defeat of the right-wing forces and the social-democratic and social-Christian coalition that had governed Chile for the last three decades.

In 1980 those who produced the coup d’état of 1973 imposed their vision on the country and now it was this proposal, at the same time archaic in its indigenist ideology and postmodern in its identity vision, where ethnic and gender traits replace with privilege the basic equality of the liberal democratic ethos, that is, what in Chile is known as “octubrism”, the allusion to the month of 2019 in which mob violence took to the streets of the country. Part of its content is a real experiment, in the sense that some norms are not found in the Chilean experience or in other countries. There is also a tribute to coloniality in its Latin American version.

There were disqualifications and bulldozers instead of a serene exchange of ideas, and today there is a different electoral scenario. The excesses of the constituents have modified the atmosphere that allowed their election, in the sense that the almost 80% who approved this constitutional itinerary has vanished, and today almost all the polls show that the rejection has more support than those who want to approve it, a deterioration that also coincides with the very rapid fall of Boric and his government in citizen appreciation.

This is what the so-called exit plebiscite must resolve, that is, the call to the sovereign, to the electorate, so that by compulsory vote it decides whether to give its approval to the new rules of the game or to return to the institutionalism of the current norms, which bear the signature not of Pinochet, but of President Lagos, for the number of modifications that this fundamental charter had. It is undoubtedly the most important decision of the country since 1988 and the plebiscite in which General Pinochet’s claim to remain in power was defeated.

Whatever the polls say, only now does the debate begin on the content of the rules, and I remain convinced that the new constitution still predominates over the idea of rejection. No doubt that the Convention has lost support, but not what it represents, since the same surveys show that the majority continues to believe that it expresses better ideas and respect for indigenous peoples, better care for the environment, more social rights and better income distribution, all very important issues for the new generations.

Whether it is true or not is another problem, when the vote has acquired a marked generational divide. It is true that there has been a lot of arrogance and sectarianism, but now these constituents will not be taking over the news, and a plebiscite is a very particular election that is expressed in the binary terms of a yes and a no, in a combat of narratives, where not only in Chile emotion predominates over reason, and the narrative over the facts.

It is not enough to argue about facts but also to excite, to move. What the approval brings with it is very clear (different is whether you like it or not), but the same cannot be said to every event of rejection. What does it mean? Return to what exists or incorporate elements that reflect the cultural change that Chile has suffered and that preceded the political change?

As few people will read the detail of the constitution, from the end of the work of the Convention, the debate will be dominated by a presentation in which the Constitution of abundant and free Rights will oppose the Pinochet Constitution. To say that it is a false presentation is not to the point, since it is exactly this way of seeing the problem that led to this reform process.

A plebiscite is itself a selection of alternatives, and the alternative to approval cannot be perceived as a leap into the void or even worse, a return to street violence by those who reject the system.

I think Chile has a good example in how the democratic forces managed to defeat General Pinochet in 1988. It was not a simple NO, but a purposeful vision of a better Chile, which was not only its tradition, but an optimistic vision of something better, and that gave it along with the transition one of the most successful stages in its history.

But today that is past, so rejection is not enough, but something more is needed. From the outset, an ethical vision, based on principles, and an acceptance of the changes that the Chilean population has had, such as, for example, a better distribution of the benefits of progress and a more active role for a version that can be financed of the Welfare State. And Brexit is a good example that it is not enough to hand over figures or scare with what could happen to investments.

First, and there 1988 is a good example, a scheme where there must be a unity of purpose and organization, with a clear and optimistic message, where waters are separated with extreme forces of any kind. Secondly, a clear project of the type of constitution that is wanted, where from now on it could be left deposited in Congress (which until the day of the plebiscite retains its constituent powers), a project that collects what is wanted to be preserved as well as modified in the current text, so that two versions compete on equal terms, since let us remember that a short time ago, almost 80% approved to start a reform process. For the rest, he could join the one left in at the end of his term by former President Bachelet.

Thirdly, and very importantly, the current polarization must be opposed to the search for agreements, and therefore, the confrontation that predominates today must be opposed by a Pact for Chile that collects the central ideas for a country that wants an agreement towards the next 30 years, and that looks to the future rather than to the past.

Finally, fourthly, it is very important to remember what happened when the vote for a new constitution or the preservation of the existing was requested, so that the image and conduct of the process must be rather in the hands of the political center. For its part, the right must understand that has suffered a defeat and like the left in ’88, must grasp that it is not his time and give up the limelight.

The time is for dialogue, respect and civic friendship, not confrontation and tension, to build bridges and not dynamite them, that countries advance more through collaboration than confrontation.

“The opinions published herein are the sole responsibility of its author”.