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Chile’s Conservatives Push Ahead with Rightwing Constitution

The rightwing-dominated body charged with writing Chile’s new constitution on Wednesday approved a draft that enshrines conservative positions into law, potentially damaging its chance of success at a December referendum.

The draft includes articles curbing the right to strike, guaranteeing the swift expulsion of undocumented migrants, protecting the right to life of the unborn and affirming the right to use private pension, education and health systems — all issues that are fiercely debated in Chile’s polarised society.

The text will now be reviewed by an expert panel, and the council writing the constitution will have a final chance to amend it before it is presented to voters. Just 24 per cent of Chileans say they plan to approve the constitution, while 54 per cent say they will reject it, according to a survey published on Sunday by pollster Cadem.

Chile embarked on the process of rewriting its constitution in late 2019, after mass protests over inequality. The country’s current charter — written in 1980 under rightwing dictator Augusto Pinochet, though later reformed — was a central target of demonstrators’ anger. A first attempt at a new constitution, a radical document drafted mainly by leftist leaders and independents, was resoundingly rejected in a referendum last year.

That opened the door for a new process, controlled by politicians, which analysts said had a better chance of delivering a moderate document more acceptable to voters. But the new council, in which 33 of 50 seats were won by the far-right Republicanos party and traditional rightwing coalition Chile Vamos, also took an ideological approach, said Danilo Herrera, a political scientist who has closely followed the constitutional process in Santiago.

“The result has been exactly the same: last year’s constitution was a [leftwing] identitarian document, and this is a rightwing identitarian document,” he said, adding that “the articles on fundamental issues” had been approved without the support of the 17 leftwing councillors.

Beatriz Hevia, the president of the council and a member of Republicanos, disagreed with the characterisation of the constitution as rightwing. “We are aiming for a text that makes sense to the majority of Chileans, rather than to any specific sector,” she told the Financial Times. “And I think we have achieved it.

” The “main factor” dragging down public support for the new constitution was not its content but voter apathy following three years of the rewriting process, Hevia added. Polls showed high rejection rates even before the council convened in June. “But we believe it is possible to turn it around,” Hevia said. “If people read our text, they will approve it.

” Abortion rights campaigners have said the text opens the door to legal challenges to Chile’s “three grounds” law, which allows terminations in the case of rape, fatal foetal abnormality, and risks to the life of the mother. Hernán Larraín, founder of centre-right party Evópoli, which is part of Chile Vamos, said the draft included partisan positions on controversial issues, and that some points, including a plan to cut taxes on valuable properties, were legislative matters that do not belong in a constitution. “We believe [a moderate document] would give a better probability of success in December,” Larraín said.

“All of the scenarios for approval are difficult, but with a consensus text it is more likely.” Leaders from Chile’s main political parties have said they are trying to get councillors to scale back the draft in the revision stage, which starts on October 12 and ends on November 7.

Republicanos have already launched a campaign to convince voters to back the constitution. The rest of Chile’s political camps have yet to confirm whether they will promote the document, though the most likely scenario was rightwingers campaigning in favour, and leftists against, Herrera said.

Uncertainty about Chile’s charter over the past four years has worsened political stagnation, stalling legislative reforms, and dampening investment. The IMF expects the country’s economy to contract by 1 per cent in 2023.

While Chile’s leftist president Gabriel Boric has ruled out starting a third process if this constitution is rejected, experts warn uncertainty may linger because the legitimacy of the Pinochet-era constitution has been damaged.

“The debate would remain open, because Chile’s political system is blocked,” said Larraín, who directs constitution research project Horizontal. “And the constitution is the heart of that system.”

Source : Financial Times