The plebiscite in Chile: a break with history and a bet on the institutions

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It was not an escape helicopter, a coup, or a crisis with international intervention. The country chose another path. There was no revolution or involution. There was nothing less than the democratic vote. And an overwhelming result.

It was not an escape helicopter, a coup, or a crisis with international intervention. Chile chose another path. There was no revolution or involution. The bet to get out of the deepest of its crises since 1973 was institutional: a democratic plebiscite, where citizens voted on their society from the base, their own Constitution. Y the approval was overwhelming.

November 12 will be marked in this chapter. That afternoon, the most violent of that month, President Sebastián Piñera had to make a decision: listen to leaders of his sector and deploy – again – the military forces in the streets; or seek a transversal agreement with the opposition. The president has recognized that that night were his most difficult hours. “The night of Tuesday, November 12 of last year marked a turning point,” he said in his public account a couple of months ago.

Three days later, at dawn, in Congress the historic and transversal agreement was sealed that gave way to a constituent plebiscite. More than 13 million Chileans could answer whether or not they want to change their Constitution and what mechanism they prefer to do so. A consultation that was originally scheduled for April 26, but Covid 19 and the health emergency appeared, leading to the inevitable postponement of the referendum.

The different powers of the State and Institutions of the country are questioned. Not to mention the politicians. At the heart of the protests lies a deep crisis of confidence and the feeling that there are privileged groups that resolve the destiny of the country without considering the social reality of the middle class and the popular sectors. In the analysis that congressmen carried out the night they signed the agreement –in which Clarín was present-, the same concept was reiterated: “the democratic solution”.

Latin America has been characterized by processes of traumatic changes and Chile, in particular, almost cyclically has had complex social episodes every four decades (1891,1925,1973 and 2019). None, before this one, has been able to be resolved without an institutional breakdown. That was the bet of its leaders.

It has not been easy. The threat of violence in the streets remains current. On October 18, when a year of the social outbreak was commemorated, two churches burned in the center of the capital and looting and barricades were once again registered in different cities of the country. This time the sentence was transversal and the groups of violent activists seem to be becoming isolated.

Faced with the crisis of confidence, social demands and the threat of violence, Chileans voted with a mask and carrying a pen, which each one had to wear.

“I consider myself more and more social democrat,” said Joaquín Lavín, mayor of the municipality of Las Condes, and leader of the presidential polls by the right. Lavín, a former presidential candidate in 1999 and 2005, is considered a “Chicago Boy”, as the generations of Chilean economists who attended the university where he taught Milton Friedman and installed neoliberal economic policies during the dictatorship are known. scored by Augusto Pinochet.

Lavín’s turnaround is consistent with the diagnosis of various center-left and center-right leaders: Chile is not going to renounce the open liberal economy model, but it must protect, with greater State intervention, social rights such as health, education and pensions, guaranteeing new standards of dignity.

For former President Ricardo Lagos, who has acknowledged admiring European social democracy for the balance between economic development and social welfare, the break occurred because of the economic and social progress of Chileans in the last 30 years, after the fall of the dictatorship, “was not satisfied” with the State’s response to a society with more resources and more demanding.

The analyzes suggest, in general, that Chile would come out with a moderate Constitution from an eventual constituent process, demanding greater social guarantees from the State, but maintaining in the nation’s ideology a robust protection for private entrepreneurship, property rights and the free movement of goods.

Although the public chose that said body be made up of 100% of elected members, all the articles of the new legal text must have 2/3 of the votes of the constituents to be approved. That is, left or right should achieve 66% of the quotas in the convention to impose its ideological vision. Something that seems distant, if not impossible.

Although independent candidates have been empowered to make lists among themselves, the truth is that most of the applicants will be taken by the political parties, with one requirement: the constituent body will be equal. No sector is expected to gain an overwhelming majority and agreements will have to be forced.

The eyes of various media and political scientists around the world are on this process, in what could become a new way to resolve political crises in this part of the hemisphere.

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