Chile embarks on uncertain road to draft new constitution

Election officers wearing protective masks sort and count votes after polling stations close in elections for governors, mayors, councilors and members of the constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution to replace the charter of the Chile, in Valparaiso, Chile, on May 16, 2021. REUTERS / Rodrigo Garrido

Longtime Chilean political parties were in shock on Monday after their deadly defeat in a delegate election to rewrite the constitution that has sown doubts over their future as well as the fate of the country’s free market model.

The ruling center-right coalition failed in the weekend’s vote to secure the third of the seats needed to block sweeping changes during the convention.

And the center-left – which has dominated politics since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship of 1973-1990 – garnered less support than the leftists who pushed for a global change of the “ Chilean model ” that has been credited with fomenting growth but also profoundly inequality.

Analyst Guillermo Holzmann called the result “a rejection of the political system in general … and a rejection of traditional political parties which obtained a lower share of the vote than in all previous elections.”

Thanks to a low turnout – abstention was close to 58% – more than a third of the delegates chosen were independents.

Among the independent candidates who will take place in the old neoclassical congress building in central Santiago to draft the new charter is Alondra Carrillo Vidal, a 29-year-old psychologist.

Carrillo is a former spokesperson for the powerful Chilean women’s movement 8M and was chosen to represent the working-class southern suburb of Santiago as part of a coalition of social groups emerging from the inequalities protests that exploded in 2019.

Carrillo said his success “against all odds” sharpened his resolve to push through fundamental change and dismissed comments from members of President Sebastian Pinera’s Chile Vamos coalition of potential alliances for consensus building.

“We are the majority at the convention, the traditional parties have completely lost,” she said. “We are not going to delegate our voice to those who claim to represent us.”

Some independents were linked to businesses, religious leaders or traditional parties, but most had grassroots mandates, she said. “So we are not going to make alliances with the right and we are not going to waste this opportunity.”

“ MODEL UNCERTAINTY ”

The Chilean peso dipped on Monday and its IPSA stock market was hit hard after Pinera’s coalition flop.

Rating agency S&P said it saw “modest uncertainty” in Chile after the surprise result, with presidential elections slated for November. But he predicted that economic growth would pick up quickly as the pandemic receded and copper prices rose, a boon to the government coffers of the world’s largest producer of red metal.

“We expect Chile’s transition to a new constitution over the next two years to be stable, supporting investor confidence,” the agency said in a note Monday.

Fitch also stressed the strength of Chile’s financial situation, saying he believed the country “will be able to withstand significant political and economic uncertainties.”

Delegates are expected to meet shortly to set the rules for the process, then spend a maximum of 12 months debating and drafting the new text before Chileans vote on the final product. If this fails, Chile will revert to the current text. Read more

Joaquin Villarino, a veteran of the Chilean mining industry and head of umbrella group Consejo Minero, told Reuters he hoped delegates would embrace moderation.

“This space for dialogue must be characterized by serious and well-founded discussions,” he said, warning that if short-term extremists gain the upper hand, “there will be reasons for pessimism.”

The head of the chamber of business, Juan Sutil, told Diario Financiero that he hoped that all the changes “would strengthen democracy and the principles that will allow Chile to continue to develop”.

“Independent candidates have a lot to say, I think they can inject a lot of rational and solid criteria,” he said.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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