Protestors in Chile sores a victory after President Sebastian Pinera conceded to their demand for a new constitution. After Pinera announced the reversal of his previous position, the Chilean Parliament held a vote on the idea, approving it.
“This a historic night for Chile,” said Jaime Quintana, senate president, on Friday. ‘Historic’ is not an understatement considering the nation’s history as it represents the final shedding of General Augusto Pinochet’s memory. Under his rule, Chile transitioned from a dictatorship to a constitution, albeit one carefully crafted to keep all power centralized in the office of the president.
The new constitution will allow for a “peaceful and democratic exit” to the current turmoil, said Quintana. According to him, the new legal foundation will be fully democratic. The road to drafting a new constitution will involve citizens as much as their government leaders. Initially, the government planned to create it through Parliament, but that idea was soundly rejected by demonstrators. Instead, the parties agreed to a 12-point Agreement for Social Peace and New Constitution.
Accord to the outline, a vote will be called in April for the people to decide whether to create a new constitution. That vote is likely to pass as recent polling showed 80 percent of Chileans are in favor of such an endeavor. The vote will also ask Chileans how they would prefer the constitution to be written: by a mixed constitutional convention or a general constitutional convention.
According to the 12-point plan, a mixed convention will be comprised of equal parts elected convention members and current members of parliament. The method would give more power to the current government for shaping the new constitution. However, if a constitutional convention is selected, elected officials may be shut out of the process entirely. The constitutional assembly will choose representatives for the convention during the October 2020 regional and minimal elections.
If current elected officials opt to run as representatives for the assembly, they will relinquish their posts and will be prohibited from running for office for one year after the assembly concludes. Citizens will also have power over approving the norms and voting rules for the convention. Once a constitution is drafted, it will become legal immediately.
The path to forming a new constitution will not be quick; the assembly will have 9 months to reach an agreement. This can be extended for a maximum 3 months and a vote must be called within 60 days of its conclusion.
The announcement of a new constitution initiative could help reduce protests which began after a subway fare hike, the second this year. The demonstrations have claimed the lives of 20 activists and have gradually grown more violent. The subway rate hike was emblematic of larger economic issues.
Although the nation is considered one of the most economically-stable in Latin America, protestors argue the system gives preference to the wealthy. Social services and natural resources are heavily privatized creating a quality of life gap between income levels. Low wages and pensions have added to the frustrations and given more reasons for demonstrators to take to the streets in protest.
“Chile is a country that generates wealth. Distribution does not reach the majority,” said Eduardo Rojas, a dockworker union leader in Antofagasta, Chile. “The people have risen up.”
The government’s efforts to satisfy protestors proved ineffective as they held out for a new constitution, an idea that Pinera refused until last week.
On Nov. 12, Chile’s finance minister issued a dire warning on the effects of the protests. The peso is now at an all-time low against the dollar after falling 4 percent.
“The peaceful marches have made their point and that message is reflected in the measures that the government and the opposition have taken,” said Ignacio Briones. “All our actions have consequences and they are having grave consequences that are now being seen in the economy and particularly on entrepreneurs and in the most vulnerable sectors.”
Briones declared the protests could cost Chile 300,000 jobs and will definitely cause fuel prices to increase. He also estimated that damage to state property including subways could total $3 billion.
Now in their fifth week, protests might finally calm down if demonstrators are satisfied with the concession of a new constitution. For both the government and economy, activism has wrecked havoc and even imperiled the lives of citizens. While a new condition will take over a year to create, Pinera’s willingness to make it a reality is one of the only positive signs to come from the turmoil.