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Chile political parties agree to draft new constitution

Agreement comes three months after voters rejected a replacement for current, Pinochet-era Magna Carta.

Fourteen political parties in Chile — including representatives from the left and right — have agreed to begin work on a new constitution, in the latest attempt to replace a national charter that dates back to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

In a speech from the capital of Santiago on Tuesday, President Gabriel Boric applauded the decision, saying, “We have taken a necessary and, I hope, decisive step to advance in a new social pact for a better democracy, more freedoms, more social rights. Chile cannot continue waiting.”

He also challenged Chile’s Congress to approve the accord, which was agreed upon on Monday night. At least 29 senators and 89 deputies — or four-sevenths of the Congress — must vote in favour in order for the accord to pass.

“I am sure that, in Congress, a sense of responsibility, dedication and generosity will prevail to honour democracy — to be able to give us a new, legitimate constitution,” Boric said.

Chile’s current constitution was written in 1980, nearly six years into Pinochet’s rule. The charter expanded the right-wing dictator’s powers, allowing the executive branch to suspend civil liberties, restrict a free press and more.

Though the constitution has been reformed over the years to bring it more in line with democratic standards, it has been long criticised for contributing to inequality in Chile.

The constitution emphasises private property rights — including over natural resources such as water — while failing to offer social welfare guarantees. It likewise makes no mention of the Indigenous people, who comprise 13 percent of Chile’s population.

In 2019, a student-led demonstration over transportation fees escalated into a nationwide protest movement over social inequalities. One of the main demands was to overhaul Chile’s constitution.

The protests left more than 30 people dead and thousands wounded in what is considered the worst violence in Chile since the Pinochet era.

The demonstrations subsided as the Chilean government agreed to hold a referendum over whether to redraft the constitution, and Chileans voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal in October 2020.

An elected body of 154 people drafted a vast new charter, creating 388 articles governing everything from universal healthcare to minority rights to gender parity.

But the left-leaning draft failed to pass in a vote this past September, with more than 60 percent of Chileans rejecting the proposed charter.

Boric, a left-wing politician elected as Chile’s youngest president in December of last year, has supported continued efforts to revise the country’s constitution.

The agreement reached on Monday calls on Congress to appoint 24 experts who will create the framework for a new constitutional commission. The commission will include 50 people, plus an unspecified number of Indigenous representatives, all to be elected in a vote proposed for April 2023.

The 14 political parties were initially divided over how many commissioners should be chosen, and whether they should be elected or appointed.

Monday’s deal also calls for a new charter to be based on a dozen constitutional principles previously determined by the political parties, including that Chile has a unitary but decentralised government with separate and independent executive, judicial and legislative branches.

Additionally, it stipulates that Chile’s 11 Indigenous peoples will be recognised as part of any new constitution, as will crucial rights, including the right to life and property.

The 14 political parties also agreed upon the principle that Chile’s military must always be subordinate to the civil government.

Under Monday’s proposal, 14 judges from each of the parties will advocate for these fundamental rights.

If Congress passes the accord, Chile will have five months to draft a new charter, ahead of a nationwide vote proposed for late next year.