Chile’s conservatives win most seats on constitution rewrite body

After a failed progressive majority rewrite, a collection of right-wing parties will now draft a new constitution.

Chile constitution
The constitutional advisers elected on Sunday will start drawing up a new constitution in June based on a draft compiled by 24 constitutional experts appointed by Congress in March [File: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

Chilean right-wing parties have won a majority of votes to elect advisers to draft a new constitution, marking a sharp shift from a progressive majority that drafted a failed first constitutional rewrite.

With 95.13 percent of ballots tallied, Chile’s Republican Party, led by former conservative firebrand presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast, secured nearly 35 percent in Sunday’s vote.

A separate coalition of traditional right-wing parties gained more than 20 percent of the vote, while President Gabriel Boric’s left-wing coalition garnered about 29 percent. Centrist parties took the remainder of the vote.

“Today is the first day of a better future, a new start for Chile,” Kast, who lost to Boric in 2021, said during a speech in Santiago. “Chile has defeated a failed government.”

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Republican Party members celebrate obtaining the largest number of representatives after the election for the Constitutional Council, which will draft a new constitution proposal in Santiago [Esteban Felix/AP Photo]

New constitution

The final results will determine the exact makeup of a 50-seat Constitutional Council that will be in charge of drafting a new constitution. Articles will need a three-fifths majority to be approved.

This is the latest step in a years-long effort to overhaul the country’s dictatorship-era text after nearly 80 percent of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution in 2020 following violent protests against inequality.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Santiago, said, “Should the text be found wanting, Chile will have lost the last opportunity for a long time to finally eliminate the last important symbol of its former military dictatorship.”

The irony, she added, would be that Chile commemorates the 50th anniversary of the coup that deposed the Popular Unity government that “gave birth to the constitution that so many find illegitimate”.

The constitutional advisers elected on Sunday will start drawing up a new constitution in June based on a draft compiled by 24 constitutional experts appointed by the National Congress in March. Voters will then approve or reject the new proposal in December.

The Republican Party, the most conservative of those represented in the new council, will now be the leading political force. Luis Silva, the party’s most-voted candidate, told Newman that they never wanted to replace the dictatorship-era constitution. “It’s our starting point. This process allows us to introduce new aspects to it that we believe our constitution deserves,” he said.

A failed first rewrite

Largely independent and left-wing constituents drafted the first rewrite, which focused on social benefits, environmental rights, gender parity and Indigenous rights.

It was considered one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, but many voters found it too polarising, and controversies mired the process.

Boric, who took office last March, rose to power on a wave of optimism surrounding reform, but his approval ratings have since plummeted as a struggling economy and rising crime have become the main concerns for voters.

Boric also suffered a political defeat after throwing his weight behind the first rewrite, which was rejected by nearly 62 percent of voters. The president has since distanced himself from the process but promised to support it.

“The government won’t meddle with the process and will respect the entity’s autonomy in its deliberation,” Boric told reporters on Sunday morning after voting, adding that the government would act as a guarantor and support requests from the new council.

After Kast’s victory speech, Boric spoke from La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago and called for unity and urged the opposition to learn from the previous failed attempt.

“I want to invite the Republican Party, that’s won an unquestionable majority, to not make the same mistakes we made,” Boric said. “This process can’t be about vendettas, but putting Chile first.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies