The Chilean constitutional convention and the elephant in the china shop

In the Chilean past, other constitutions have been imposed by one sector to the others and it would be extremely negative to repeat that history. After the 1988 plebiscite the opposing factions of that time were sharply divided, because one sector did not accept a full democracy and other did not like the predominance of market forces. To move to a basic agreement allowed for a very virtuous period as it is internationally recognized.
Ricardo Israel.
On july 7th the Chilean Constitutional Convention was formally inaugurated. From that day, the 155 elected constituents will have one year to produce a proposal for a new constitution, to be approved or rejected in a plebiscite.
This framework was the result of a political agreement, after a social explosion cornered the government and the violence surpassed the police. Those elected were a true political earthquake, a total defeat of the political forces that had led Chile since the 90s of last century. It was a crisis for the governing right which did not even got one third of the convention. It was also unexpected for the socialdemocratic left and the centerleft socialchristians, because both were defeated by the Communist Party and the hard left.
The winners were led by the “Lista del Pueblo”, that is to say, an extra parliamentary left, who organized itself during the violent outcry of October 2019, and together with other elected groups were a clear indication of a majority in favor of very radical changes to the political and economic patterns followed by the country in the last three decades.
Criticism has started by pointing to the fact that many of those elected do not accept that there are limits to what they can do, that is to say, they have the very important task of writing the proposal of a new constitution but no other authority. By the same token they are not a new power of the state, because they do not replace the executive, legislative or judicial branches. Besides the fact that the final word depends on a plebiscite, internal agreements need to be reached by two thirds of the Convention.
Even more, the constitutional reform which allowed for this election says that those elected can not change the international treaties signed by Chile as well as the Convention should also respect the democratic and republican characteristics of Chile. It is a Convention and not a Constitutional Assembly, because the old Congress can enact new laws and the actual Constitution will be the law of the land until a new one is formally approved by the voters, and will continue if the proposal is rejected.
It is very serious that many of the elected constituents have publicly said that they are not bound by those legal norms and their participation in activities which show a feeling that rules and laws do not apply to them, only because they have been elected to draft a new constitution.
At the same time, since day one there has been a campaign for more resources and privileges, ignoring conditions that were known the moment they decided to put forward their names.
In my view, the elephant in the china shop, the most notorious fact which has not been seen in its whole entity, is a statement supported by more than two thirds which accepts a validation of violence as a legitimate way to generate change in society.
And this is a very real problem for democracy, because one of its basic principles is the peaceful resolution of conflicts, through a process based in decisions taken by the majority but always respecting minorities. Even more, when a constitution is being discussed because its core idea is to produce the most fundamental law for all those who live in a country, and the game rules for future generations.
I believe it so important as to look to democracy itself as the most decisive element in this debate, not so much economic or political proposals, for it is very worrying the validation of violence by some constituents and their attitude that they do not have to respect limitations established by law.
In the Chilean past, other constitutions have been imposed by one sector to the others and it would be extremely negative to repeat that history. After the 1988 plebiscite the opposing factions of that time were sharply divided, because one sector did not accept a full democracy and other did not like the predominance of market forces. To move to a basic agreement allowed for a very virtuous period as it is internationally recognized.That stage or phase is over and unfortunately nothing indicates that there is disposal to reach an understanding. Neither there seem to be willingness in many of those elected to the convention.
And the conclusion is an old golden rule: in democracy the will of the people has to be respected, but the responsibility on the consequences of their decision is to be accepted by the same people.
(*) Lawyer (Universidad de Chile, Universidad de Barcelona), Doctor (Ph.D.) in Political Science (Government, University of Essex), former presidential candidate (Chile, 2013)

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