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  • Protestants paint in red the monument of Plaza Baquedano, renamed Plaza de la Dignidad after the social unrest of 2019. Santiago de Chile, Chile. October 16th, 2020.

    Protestants paint in red the monument of Plaza Baquedano, renamed Plaza de la Dignidad after the social unrest of 2019. Santiago de Chile, Chile. October 16th, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/ @antofa_pato

Published 21 October 2020
Opinion

October 25 promises to be a day that will remain in Chilean history pages, marking a before and after in its political and democratic development.

For Chilean people, October 25th could mark a political pivotal turn, and start the path for a new political landscape of cooperation and popular power. It is a long time promise to be finally accomplished. 

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Chile: Left-Wing Forces Seek a New Start With the Plebiscite

32 years between plebiscites

October and a historic vote. That is what Chile experienced in 1988 and that this 2020 is ready to repeat. Although 32 years separate these votes, both are intimately linked. In the first one, which took place after 15 years of dictatorship, Chileans had to go to the polls to decide the continuity of General Augusto Pinochet in power, based on the itinerary that the same dictatorship had set, convinced that the survival of his regime was assured for another eight years. Despite the adverse context, on that historic day, Chile said No to Pinochet, thus beginning the transition to democracy, calling for presidential elections the following year. However, this No to the dictator, although it took him out of the presidency of the Republic, did not dismantle the institutional apparatus that he established through a Political Constitution that was imposed in 1980 through a fraudulent plebiscite, which took place without electoral records, without freedom of expression and in a context of massive human rights violations.

Reforms

In the attempt to dismantle part of this institutional structure of the dictatorship, after the 1988 plebiscite, the opposition of the time agreed to 54 constitutional reforms with the regime, among which were the incorporation of and respect for International Treaties, the elimination of the presidential power to dissolve Congress, the reduction of the transition period to 4 years, the repeal of the controversial Article 8 of the Constitution (which outlawed persons or parties that advocated doctrines based on class struggle), among others. But the cost of achieving these reforms was to increase certain quorums, which added to the maintenance of the binominal electoral system (which tended to a constant tie between two political blocs) and the designated senators, in the end, made any possibility of structural change to the Constitution impossible.

In this way, during the next three decades, constitutional reforms were carried out from Congress as much as possible, which always had to agree with a minority due to high quorums. It was not until 2005 that an agreement was reached with the right-wing opposition to eliminate the appointed senators, to end the immobility of the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces and Order, and to strengthen the powers of the National Congress, taking Pinochet's signature off the Constitution and replacing it with that of then-President Ricardo Lagos.

Ten years later, in 2015, the binominal electoral system was modified and replaced by a proportional one. However, although the 1980 Constitution was the most reformed in the history of Chile, to date, there are still "constitutional traps" that maintain the substance of the text of the dictatorship, such as the supra-majority quorums and a highly questionable Constitutional Court, which since its inception have sought to inhibit the political action of the people.

Plebiscite 2020

The 1989 plebiscite was the last one held in Chile, until now. The social awakening that took place on October 18, 2019, opened the door for the right-wing to put their votes in the approval of a constitutional reform that allowed to call for a plebiscite to be held on October 25, in which the Chilean people will be consulted as to whether they want a new Constitution and the body that should draft it. This will be the first time in Chile that it will be possible to democratically decide on a Constitution, where if the Approval option is won, the people who will draft it will have to be elected next April 11. They will have between 9 and 12 months to do so. After that, Chile will live a new referendum, this time to approve or reject the constitutional text.

In this way, and despite the pandemic context that has made the campaign very different from other occasions, this process is transformed into a unique opportunity for Chile, where it will be possible to discuss the constitutional framework that is expected to govern the next decades, talking democratically about all the issues, several of which have been postponed for years, for example, the relationship with the native peoples.

October 25 promises to be a day that will remain in Chilean history pages, marking a before and after in its political and democratic development.

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