Students gather in the Plaza de Santiago to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the social outbreak, in Santiago, Chile, 18 October 2023. EFE/ Ailen Díaz

Four years after social outbreak, Chile faces second constitutional failure

Maria M. Mur

Santiago de Chile, Oct 18 (EFE).- In 2019, Chile was plunged into the worst wave of protests since the end of the dictatorship and began a long discussion about its social model. Four years later, the debate is at a standstill and the second attempt to draft a new constitution could also fail, according to the polls.

As the fourth anniversary of the outbreak approaches, more than 4,000 police officers will be deployed, mainly in Santiago, but the authorities are hoping for a “calm” day since there have been few calls for mass marches.

Chileans are beginning to distance themselves from the social upheaval which paralyzed the country’s institutions for several months, left around thirty people dead, thousands injured, and led international organizations to accuse the security forces of violating human rights.

Students gather in the Plaza de Santiago to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the social outbreak, in Santiago, Chile, 18 October 2023. . EFE/ Ailen Díaz

The anniversary comes two days before the opening of the 19th Pan American Games, the largest sporting event to be held in Chile since the 1962 World Cup, and during an official visit to China by President Gabriel Boric.

“The effects of the outbreak, which some are trying to pretend did not happen or erase from history, are long-term and I think it is too early to make a complete analysis,” Boric said Tuesday from Beijing.

Unmet social demands

A new constitution was the solution agreed upon by politicians to defuse the protests, but four years later the country is still under the 1980 Constitution drafted during the dictatorship (1973-1990).

However, as Rodrigo Pérez de Arce, of the Institute of Social Studies (IES), explains to EFE, “the political system has not been able to resolve urgent discussions, such as security, pensions or health.”

“The sum of the outbreak and the pandemic, along with this political inefficiency, has left us in a state of immobility,” he adds.

Octavio Avendaño, from the University of Chile, also believes that the social demands have not been successful.

Carabineros detain a person while students gather in the Plaza de Santiago to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the social outbreak, in Santiago, Chile, 18 October 2023. EFE/ Ailen Díaz

Avendaño points out that there was a “false understanding ” of the protests, thinking that the problem could be solved “with a change in the constitution and a leftist government.”

“The outbreak was a much more complex phenomenon. We realized that the demand for constitutional change came from the elites, including the left, and not from the street,” he told EFE.

Pendulum Voting

Since 2019, Chile has held seven elections in which the electorate has behaved like a pendulum, swinging first to the left and then to the right.

Boric, the most leftist president since Salvador Allende, defeated the far-right Jose Antonio Kast in December 2021.

However, almost two years later he has been unable to implement most of his reforms, such as tax and pensions, because he does not have a majority in parliament.

The left also won the majority of seats in the convention that drafted the first proposal for a new Magna Carta.

However, it suffered a resounding defeat in the plebiscite in September 2022, when 62% of Chileans rejected an avant-garde text on gender equality, environmental issues, and indigenous peoples rights.

In the subsequent constituent elections, the far right and the traditional right swept the scene and are currently leading this second attempt to draft a new fundamental charter.

“We are moving between two extremes, trying to attract the majority of the Chilean population, which is in the center,” Jeanne Simon of the University of Talca told EFE.

For Claudia Heiss, from the University of Chile, the redistribution of wealth and the strengthening of the country are not incompatible demands, but rather “cross-cutting” for all voters.

“To think that social rights are not important today, or that public security was not important in the past, is a mistake,” she adds.

A new failure?

Polls have been warning for weeks that the second Magna Carta proposal could also fail in the plebiscite on December 17.

The latest Cadem poll showed on Sunday that only 28% would vote for it, while 53% would vote against it.

Of the 50 authors of the new constitution, 22 are from the far-right Republican Party and 11 from the traditional right, while the ruling party has 17.

The right has asserted its overwhelming majority and included in the text controversial articles that have been criticized by various sectors as representing “setbacks” in terms of rights.

“This second process has vices similar to the previous one. They are trying to make public policy through constitutional change,” complains Heiss.

Among the most controversial points are the “right to life of the unborn,” the immediate expulsion of irregular migrants, or the tax exemption for first homes, a measure that benefits people with higher incomes.

A new failure, warns Pérez de Arce, “would bring economic uncertainty” and “would exacerbate the loss of legitimacy that citizens have in politics.” EFE