Constitutional proposals were too radical for the electorate, says analyst

Constitutional proposals were too radical for the electorate, says analyst

First modification:

Chilean constitutionalist Javier Couso analyzes the reasons for the clear rejection of the new Magna Carta project. According to the academic, the Constitutional Convention formulated ambitious proposals that were further to the left than the average Chilean electorate.

The Chilean voters rejected with a large majority the draft of the new Constitution that enshrined several rights in matters of health, abortion, ecology, as well as an unprecedented recognition of the indigenous population.

61.8% of voters rejected the new Constitution, compared to 38% who voted in favour. Radiography of the vote with Javier Couso, a constitutionalist from the Diego Portales University in Santiago de Chile.

RFI: How did we get from 80% of the electorate voting in favor of drafting a new constitution in 2020, to this Sunday’s result? What are the sectors that voted yes to the first referendum in 2020 and that are now skeptical? Was the draft constitution too ‘progressive’ ‘ambitious’ or ‘radical’?

Javier Couso: The coalition to repudiate the 1980 Constitution was very strong, but it dismembered when the conventional election turned out to be to the left of the average Chilean voter, as a result of the fact that, for the first time in Chilean history, there were lists of independents. These are people who do not have a political background that could help voters to know their ideological affiliation in the left-right axis.

When the Convention was elected and began to work, it was noted that it was biased to the left than usual, not just the institutional left. Something like 40% of the Convention was from a much more radical left and far from the average Chilean voter.

And this generated proposals that, although they were moderated by the plenary, the proposals while they were being generated, produced a lot of noise because the initial proposals were very maximalist. They were generating a feeling of too much change, too fast. And generating institutions that for the Chilean who did not follow these issues very closely, seemed very strange, such as plurinationality.

RFI: The project that was rejected included extensive rights for indigenous peoples (own courts, recognition of nations within Chile, representation quotas in the organs of power). However, an investigation by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) indicated that the majority of those surveyed rejected the new denomination of Vhile as a plurinational state. Why did the word multinational scare voters?

Javier Couso: Although there was a lot of empathy with the native peoples and a constitutional recognition and consecration of multiculturalism, plurinationalism appeared as something very alien, even threatening. What scared the most was this about the ‘plurinational state’, which Bolivia has.

Chile, unfortunately, has often looked down on Bolivia, and sees it as a very different country, with a 60% indigenous population, while Chile has around 10 or 12%. There was even this idea that with plurinationalism the national flag and the anthem would come to an end, the idea that the nation was in danger.

There was also a convention that had a lot of elements that brought it down, a person who was almost elected vice president, who was later found to have staged it to appear to be a cancer patient.

And it was very important for yesterday’s result that the center of was divided. A center-left group called for a ‘rejection’ vote. And that made the ‘rejection’ more transversal.

RFI: A wide spread of fake news was observed during the election campaign, with phrases taken out of context. Political leaders opposed to the new Magna Carta said, for example, that the name of the country and its flag would be changed, that an indigenous monarchy would be installed, or that private property would be in danger, that abortion would be legalized up to 9 months of gestation . Has the role of disinformation been decisive?

Javier Couso: It is obvious. I could not give you a percentage, if it was a third that contributed, or half or 20%, we will not know this until later with the opinion polls.

This is the first ratification process of a constitutional project in the era of fake news. And of course that was a key sector. The regulations of the Convention favored fake news: it was a very rigid regulation. What was approved in the commissions was news, and sometimes there were news where there were conventions that proposed revising, for example, not enshrining the right to property. And this was there for two weeks until it was corrected by the plenary session. This lent itself to someone saying that something was following something that had already been corrected by the plenary.

A lot of fake news was rather not reporting that maximalist things had been corrected. More than fake news, there were distortions of the corrections made by the plenary. It’s a real shame that side of the situation. But it is not the central explanation. The central explanation, I think, was too much change, too fast, by a Convention that was elected by independent groups to have more flexibility.

RFI: What will happen now? The leftist president Gabriel Boric, who comes precisely from the sector that supported this new Constitution, says that he will continue promoting a constitutional reform.

There is a verbal commitment on the part of the moderate right to advance a new Constitution. Everything depends on whether the moderate right keeps its word to continue a constituent process that has serious possibilities of ending Pinochet’s Constitution. The next few days are going to be critical to know if the moderate right is going to honor its word and understand that Chile wants a new Constitution and move towards it.

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