Why Chileans demand a new Constitution

The Constitution inherited from the military dictatorship crystallizes the demands of the movement against social inequalities for a month. A referendum will finally be held on this subject in April 2020.

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Aerial view of the demonstration against the Chilean president, Sebastian Piñera, on November 12 in Santiago. JAVIER TORRES / AFP

The main Chilean political parties reached an agreement on the night of Thursday 14 to Friday 15 November, after a month of crisis, "For social peace and the new Constitution" which will replace the one inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). A referendum will be held in April 2020 to ask the Chileans if they wish to change the text, and if so, who should draft this new Constitution.

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Written in the late 1970s, the Chilean Constitution deeply reflects the dictatorship's adherence to neoliberal economic theories, relayed by the "Chicago boys", a group of Chilean economists trained in the United States by Milton Friedman, among others.

The ideologue of Augusto Pinochet's regime, Jaime Guzman (murdered by an armed movement of the extreme left in 1991), is the main architect of this Constitution, which replaces the previous text of 1925. "This Constitution is very controversial because it explicitly has the philosophy of the Subsidiary State", explains Alfredo Joignant, professor of political science at Diego Portales University. The text confirms the preponderance of private actors in sectors that fall in many countries of the public domain.

When it was adopted in 1980 through a fraudulent referendum and organized in a context of severe repression of political opponents, the Constitution does not guarantee, for example, the access of Chileans to higher education or to a public pension system. – now managed by private pension funds, which operate by individual capitalization. The text enters into force in 1981.

  • A Constitution amended many times, never transformed in depth

After the victory of the "no" in the 1988 referendum on the maintenance of Augusto Pinochet, the Constitution undergoes a series of reforms. The most important, in 1989, marks the end of the military dictatorship, by inscribing in the Constitution the principle of political pluralism and limiting the use of the state of emergency. Dozens of reforms will then take place over the years. Under the presidency of the Socialist Ricardo Lagos, in 2005, the seats of senators for life are abolished, and the presidential term is reduced from six to four years. But the articles consolidating the Chilean economic model remain in place.

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Moreover, "The Constitution has been skilfully developed, so that it is very difficult to reform in depth," explains Joignant. Any constitutional reform requires the approval of two-thirds or three-fifths of the Congress (Chamber of Deputies and Senate), a threshold very difficult to reach, especially on projects deeply questioning the political and economic organization from the country.


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