The constitutional assembly will present the principles to govern the new Chile, as it appears that both the end of the democratic transition and neoliberalism in Chile are accelerating.
A leaderless social movement gathering millions of people across Chile began in October 2019. After decades of protests over healthcare, pensions, education and other issues, these multiple demands converged as one general clamour for social justice and dignity. The referendum for the new constitution, one of the core objectives, would reveal that the status quo had lost legitimacy and that the Chilean people were demanding the re-foundation of the country. This meant dismantling the legacy of the Pinochet regime which benefited a handful of people who today own companies that once belonged to the Chilean State. These were privatised very quickly and cheaply during the dictatorship.
The fallacy of the ‘Chilean economic miracle’ – the term crafted by accolytes of neoliberalism – was there for all to see. Low salaries, rising housing and living costs andprivatised healthcare, education and pensions made life almost impossible for the average Chilean. University education no longer meant a way out of poverty, but rather more debt without necessarily finding job opportunities in the long run.
When President Sebastián Piñera and the political elite gave in to the will of the people on 15 November 2019 and announced a Constitutional Referendum, not even a month after the protests began, there was a glimpse of hope: we would have the opportunity to decide whether to write a constitution from scratch. The vote, scheduled for April 2020, was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis, which also gave more time for its opponents to develop heavily-financed campaigns to try to make people vote against it.
But it was to no avail: almost 80 per cent of voters that participated said yes to the writing of a New Constitution. Such a decisive mandate was also supported by a second vote on having a constitutional assembly, which was to be 100 per cent elected and was to have gender parity. In a world’s first, the new Chilean constitution is the first in history which will be written by an assembly formed with respect to gender parity – the assembly will be comprised of 81 women and 74 men. The whole world is watching us, and we feel proud of Chilean women’s accomplishment.
On 15-16 May, elections were held to choose the 155 members of the constitutional assembly, and the results were as follows: 48 members come from independent lists, while opposition members from two lists altogether claimed 53 seats – of those, Lista del Apruebo (List of Approval), formed of centre-left parties who had ruled the country for over 20 years, only claimed 25 seats in the Assembly. The ruling political coalition, Vamos por Chile (Let’s Go Chile), the only rightwing list, only got 37 seats, despite having the largest amount of TV campaign airtime. The remaining 17 seats were reserved for indigenous communities, seven of which were for Mapuche representatives, the largest indigenous group in Chile.
In sum, Chileans voted decisively against the rightwing parties. The right failed to secure, as it had anticipated, one-third of the total seats. This must be very hard for them to accept as, according to the 1980 constitution, there needs to be a supra-majority of over two-thirds to approve drastic changes to the constitution, thereby ensuring that one third of seats carries the capacity to prevent major or radical reforms. Lacking enough seats to veto the new constitutional rulings, the right would find it extremely hard to negotiate with any other sectors of the assembly, as they are all ideologically opposed to them.
This gives the assembly a unique opportunity to begin to lay down the foundations of a post-neoliberal country with an emphasis on social protection and fairness, with a human rather than an economic component at heart. Another relevant point is that all formal political coalitions were the losers, with independent and unaffiliated left-leaning candidates getting the most support. Chilean voters turned their backs on the political establishment, indicating not only that the conservative parties are largely rejected, but the moderate left has been too complacent and is not bold enough to get popular support. Right now, it can be stated that the biggest winner is the independent left with a support base even larger than that achieved by Salvador Allende in 1970.
Now, it remains to be seen not only how the assembly presents the principles to govern the new Chile, as it appears that both the end of the democratic transition and neoliberalism in Chile are accelerating. We are starting a new era in our history. In November 2021, presidential elections will be held, generating the possibility for a left-leaning independent candidate to be elected as president. Chile is an example to the world and for women’s movements that parity is possible and that the demands of different protest movements, feminist activism and environmental movements need to be addressed.