Chile: tense political negotiations for a new constitution

SANTIAGO (HPD) — The path towards a new constitution in Chile is hindered by the lack of harmony between the pro-government coalitions that were initially allied. With two weeks to go before the deadline, the election of the 50 people who will have to draft the new Magna Carta is stuck in political negotiations.

The presidential pardon on December 30 of 12 convicted of common crimes related to the 2019 protests – along with one convicted of bank robbery – became a turning point in the political stability of the government of President Gabriel Boric. The decision marked a 10-point drop in approval in 15 days, according to the weekly pollster Cadem, and divided the ruling party.

“This is the most complex situation for President Boric” in his 10 months in power, reflected Marcelo Mella, a political analyst and academic at the University of Santiago de Chile, in conversation with The Associated Press. He added that “President Boric’s leadership is in question in his two coalitions” due to his high disapproval, which this week stood at 67%, according to Cadem.

The leftist coalition I Approve Dignity – the closest to the president – supported the pardons, but the center-left Socialismo Democrático condemned that they were issued at a time when they were approaching positions with the opposition to face the increase in crime in the country. The right-wing opposition bloc ended up withdrawing from that agreement.

Since then, and with the deadlines for the constituent assembly running out, Boric has not been able to convince the two pro-government blocs to come together and face the opposition in the second attempt to carry out the new magna carta.

Robert Funk, an academic at the School of Government of the University of Chile, told the HPD that it is difficult to manage the two coalitions due to the ideological diversity between them and because “the figure of the president has weakened.” In addition, different sectors in both blocks are thinking about the future and how they are going to position themselves in future elections.

He added that in addition to the problem of pardons, it is likely that high inflation and insecurity “will lead many to vote for the opposition in the election of constitutional drafters.”

The registration of the 50 drafters of the future constitution expires on February 6. The I Approve Dignity coalition wants the ruling party to go on a single list because it affirms that going separately will reduce seats from both coalitions, while Democratic Socialism -except for the Socialist Party- promotes two lists to “broaden the electoral base” of Boric.

The president of the Socialist Party, Paulina Vodanovic, insisted that they want a very broad list. “If that is not achieved, it will not be due to the lack of will of the Socialist Party.” Juan Ignacio Latorre, leader of one of the Approve Dignity parties, agreed on Tuesday that “it is a political error to be fragmented.”

The four opposition parties will compete on a single list. However, they also face the dilemma of whether or not to add the conservative Republican Party because it favors the validity of the current constitution.

Chileans will vote on May 7 to elect the 50 drafters of the new constitutional project and will return to the polls on December 17 to approve or reject the second proposal in a mandatory participation plebiscite.

It will be the second opportunity to replace the magna carta imposed four decades ago by the military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. The first attempt, the result of the 2019 protest days, failed in September last year after 62% of the electorate rejected the text written by a convention dominated by the left.

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