Chileans, after the rejection of the first text drawn up by the Boric government in 2022 and the violent social explosion of 2019, in a fragmented society characterized by a policy of inequality, on Sunday 7 May relied on conservative forces, in a new attempt to renew the constitutional bases. Chile has chosen to veer to the right with the resounding victory at the polls for the election of the 50 councilors in charge of drafting the new Constitution proposal on the one inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
The Republican Party led by the ultra-conservative José Antonio Kast had a majority obtaining 35.4 percent of the vote, managing to win 22 seats together with the center-right coalition, "Chile Seguro", which snatched 21.1% winning 11 seats. In this way, the new body will be able to count on at least 33 seats, effectively cornering Gabriel Boric's coalition, which came out of this election with 28.4% of the votes and just 17 seats. A result, beyond all expectations, that has seen the left coalitions not even reach the minimum of 20 votes sufficient to oppose the veto to the right that will not need to agree with the left and thus trace the route for the new "Magna Carta".
According to Chilean commentators, in less than a year, the government of the young socialist Boric has lost support, also paying for the numerous management errors, due to a program and a policy indifferent to the needs of Chileans, thus struggling to assert its leadership and clashing with divisions within the country; moreover, a high perception of insecurity, irregular immigration, controversy over pardons and inflation that exceeds 12.8% (a figure never recorded in the last 30 years), are some of the reasons why President Gabriel Boric has lost popular support in the country: "The previous process - says Boric - failed because we were not able to listen to those who think differently. I want to urge the Republican Party not to make the mistake we made in the past."
We met Ivan Martinic Calisto, writer and journalist of the Chilean newspaper Il Mercurio
Ivan Martinic Calisto
Ivan Martinic Calisto, Chilean writer and journalist
What do you think of the election of the new Chilean Constitutional Council?
It's very interesting what happened in this election. Two years ago, Chileans elected a Constitutional Convention with a majority of leftists and independents without political precedent. Their proposed constitution, however, was widely rejected (68% to 32%). Now, in a sort of alternation, reminiscent of the swing of a pendulum, citizens voted overwhelmingly for a Constitutional Council dominated by the Republican Party, which is to the right of the traditional Chilean center-right and was not exactly a promoter of a new Constitution, but rather of maintaining the one in force since 1980 and reformed in 2005. It is possible that the good result of the Republicans is due to the fact that they based their electoral campaign on the security problems of the country, which in recent months has seen a sharp increase in homicides, organized crime and, above all, the perception of lack of security on the part of the population.
What are the reasons why President Boric's coalition lost the Constitutional Council elections?
The problems of lack of security, to which is added the fact that Chile is facing the highest rate of inflation in the last thirty years (an entire generation has grown up in a situation of relative price stability and is only now realizing what a steady increase in the cost of living means) and that the country is actually experiencing an immigration crisis, in which the same government authorities have stated that the country's capacity to accommodate a greater number of undocumented immigrants has reached the maximum limit in terms of services that the state is able to provide.
It is a paradox what we are experiencing with the leader José Antonio Kast, who opposed the change of the Constitution and who today could have the key to this change. Will the next Chilean constitution be the same or more conservative than the current one?
Undoubtedly this is a paradox, or a pendulum political movement that should be studied thoroughly by sociologists or political scientists. I don't know if another country has had so many breakthroughs in such a few years. As if he were a boxer harshly punished by his opponent, I believe that somehow Chile is still under the effects of the knockout suffered with the social crisis of October 2019 and I do not know if at this point it has recovered the lucidity to move forward along a certain path. It is true that the Republican Party, whose natural leader is former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, holds the keys to the Constitutional Council. But it is also true that the constitutional process is strongly regulated by the 12 principles previously established by Congress (where the Republican Party does not have a majority) and by a framework being developed by a Commission of experts. And we must not forget that there is still the plebiscite, where Chileans will again be called to the polls to vote on this proposal on the Fundamental Charter. In this context, it is very difficult to predict whether or not this proposal will be more conservative than the current Constitution. The newly born Republican Party has here its first opportunity to be influential in a body elected by the people and should show signs of governability by proposing to the country a draft Constitution that is able to excite the majority in the exit plebiscite.
How do you explain this push and pull among Chilean voters?
It's such a beautiful question that there's no answer. And I go back to what I said before, about the ko we are in after the social crisis of 2019. The Chilean political class has tried to respond to these mass protests by channeling the concerns of the population through a process of generating a new constitution. At this point, however, one might wonder if this was the right button to press. Or if it was pressed simply because it was the closest key on the chessboard of the institutional crisis. Perhaps the response to the protests was another, such as the pension reform that has yet to come out of Congress. This overlapping of elements has not been studied in depth and perhaps there are answers there that we cannot yet imagine. On the other hand, since the covid-19 pandemic began in March 2019, Chileans have been called to the polls nine times, the last two with mandatory voting. There is probably also a bit of fatigue among the people.
It is the second blow to Boric's government in a vote in less than a year. How much does this punitive vote affect President Boric and his government?
The blow is undoubtedly strong, although in this case his government was much less involved than in the first trial, in which he was an open supporter. Having learned the lesson, this time he distanced himself and it remains to be seen whether the damage is greater or not. Given the economic and political conditions in which the country finds itself, President Boric's main challenge will be to carry out his government program, or at least most of it. It will be very interesting to see whether he can separate the waters with the constitutional process.
Boric's popularity is moving him further and further away from becoming the leader of the Latin American left: what is your opinion on this?
President Boric still has almost three years in office, which in the scale of Chilean politics could be an eternity. If he succeeds in putting order in the two coalitions that support his government (one of the left and the other of the center-right), especially in the votes in Congress, and if he manages to pass fundamental reforms such as tax and pensions, and if he manages to sign a new Constitution that enjoys a broad consensus on the part of the citizenry, Why not? The problem is that the solution to this equation is extremely complex. And it will be even more so because new elections will be held in Chile in 2024 (municipal and regional governors) and in 2025 (legislative and presidential). So the window for reaching political agreements with the opposition will soon begin to close.