Reform of the Constitution: Chile, a country that writes its political history through plebiscites

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32 years ago he fired the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) in a historic referendum. This Sunday there will be another unprecedented vote on the current Magna Carta, which shows the country’s “tradition” of writing its history through popular consultations.

Chile, which 32 years ago dismissed the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) in a historic referendum, will hold another unprecedented vote this Sunday on the current Constitution, which shows the “tradition” of the country to write its history through plebiscites.

The 1988 consultation put an expiration date on a military regime that was perpetuated for 17 years and now, considered the most important vote in three decades, opens the possibility of burying the current Magna Carta, inherited from the dictatorship and, for many, the source of the country’s inequalities.

“Both this referendum and the one that removed Pinochet from power they are key for the political narrative of Chile “, explained to Efe Claudia Heiss, author of the book “Why do we need a new Constitution”.

Both votes, the expert clarified, arise from the “need to unlock a complex socio-political context.”

The 1988 referendum, considered by experts as the first democratically valid vote since 1973 because it was the only one with electoral records held during the dictatorship, was carried out at a time of escalation of violence by radical groups and protests demanding a return to democracy.

The plebiscite of next October 25, meanwhile, was proposed as the political way to abate the current social crisis that the country is experiencing, which began a year ago with massive mobilizations and has left at least thirty deaths, thousands of injured and serious accusations of human rights violations.

“This vote it’s a middle way between the revolutionary breakdown and political continuity, “said Heiss, a researcher at the Center for Conflict Studies and Social Cohesion (COES).

For Jaime Abedrapo, director of the School of Government at San Sebastián University, the current referendum is the “only solution” for a situation that “surpassed” the institutions: “After the time of the dictatorship, the country has understood that you have to look for institutional channels to solve the problems. “

The plebiscite, which was to be held in April but was postponed due to the coronavirus, will raise another question: if the body in charge of drafting the new text should be an assembly made up only of elected citizens or also made up of deputies.

“Never in the 200 years of the country’s independence have citizens been asked if they want to change the Constitution. Nor has it been something common in Latin America,” Javier Couso, professor of law at the University of Utrecht (Holland), told Efe.

Designed in the dictatorship under the influence of a group of neoliberal economists and ratified in a questioned plebiscite in 1980, the current Magna Carta has been modified dozens of times in democracy, but it still continues to grant a secondary role to the State in the provision of basic services.

“This process can open the way to a citizen democracy that it guarantees all of us access to fundamental rights, “said Francisco Estévez, director of the Museum of Historical Memory of Chile, where unpublished files on the dictatorship are kept.

If the constitutional process culminates successfully, said Couso, Chile “will complete the transition that began in 1988” and “will send an important signal to Latin America, where populist figures have used constitutional changes to perpetuate themselves in power. “

In the 1988 plebiscite, with a historic 97 percent turnout, 56 percent voted for Pinochet’s removal from power.

In this vote, which is expected to break with the high abstention of the last decades, those under 39 years of age could also be crucial, since they represent 40% of the total of the 14.5 million citizens called to the polls.

“Young people withdrew quite a bit from political activity, however, this time they are expected to be lead actors of the history we are coming to, “added Abedrapo.


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