Draft new constitution divides Chileans

At the end of 2019, Chile, usually peaceful, took to the streets en masse to demand profound economic and social changes. The demonstrators demanded in particular the abolition of the Constitution, in force since the dictatorship of General Pinochet (1973-1990) and keystone of the “Chilean model”. This Sunday, September 4, the country has the opportunity to turn the page: some 15 million voters are called to the polls to approve – or reject – a new fundamental text.

Errors of the Constituent Assembly and a campaign of fear on the right

This text was drafted by the 154 members of the Constitutional Convention, who worked tirelessly for a year. In vain ? The “no” is nearly ten points ahead of the “yes” in the opinion polls.

“The Constitutional Convention started off with a great deal of legitimacy, which it lost during sometimes unbalanced debates”, explains Claudia Heiss, Doctor of Political Science at the University of Chile. Certain choices of this elected assembly have upset part of the country, such as the inclusion of the right to abortion in the draft new Constitution. To this was added, according to the political scientist, the work of undermining right-wing forces, which “installed the idea that the constituents were not competent”.

On the left, we try to reassure

In an attempt to reassure, the left-wing political parties have announced that they have reached an agreement to make changes to the text in the event of a victory of the “yes”, in particular to counter the accusations of questioning the property. Or to reaffirm that the consultation of the native peoples, a novelty in the Constitution, will only concern the “matters likely to directly affect the original peoples”.

Senator Juan Ignacio Latorre, president of the Democratic Revolution party, said that “This agreement aims to provide certainty for the implementation of the new Constitution and to fight against a brutal disinformation campaign, with millions of dollars, coming from the right”. In fact, while the “yes” campaign received around €410,000, the “no” raised and spent more than twice that.

Compulsory voting and many undecided

However, nothing is decided yet. Firstly because the undecided remain numerous – 17%, according to the latest Cadem-Plaza Publica poll, which gives 37% for the “yes” and 46% for the “no”. Then because participation remains the great unknown. While voting has not been compulsory in Chile for ten years, it is for this referendum. The fine for failure to vote is high (around €180). However, the polls project a participation rate that would not exceed 70%.

The Agreement for Social Peace (signed in November 2019), aimed at appeasing the social revolt, stipulated that the 1980 Constitution established by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet would remain in force in the event of a negative vote. A scenario finally ruled out by the various political forces. The parties in favor of the “no” to the new Constitution thus propose “reject this one to write a better one, with love”.

As for the new Head of State, Gabriel Boric, elected in December 2021, he has already announced a ” Plan B “ in case of failure. The young progressive president explained that he would propose calling new elections and forming a new Constitutional Convention. An announcement that immediately sparked a lively debate within the legislature, while Congress is divided equally between left and right.


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