—Alberto Coddou Mc Manus, Diego Portales University & University College of London
Nowadays, Chile is undergoing a unique constituent process. A longstanding aim of several social movements, the idea of a new constitution now dominates the agenda, and is one of the main commitments of the current government. The commitment to replace the Constitution of 1980 stems partly, but not exclusively, from its origin in dictatorship. In an era where structural reforms have been at the forefront of centre-left governments around the region, various constraints put in place by the 1980 constitution have assumed a central place in the Chilean political public sphere. It seems that Chileans have to discuss, design and implement every policy under the shadow of Pinochet’s constitution, which was carefully crafted to preclude the institutional articulation of progressive political projects. Several critiques against the current constitutional arrangements have emerged: the powers of the Constitutional Court, which has emerged as a threat to strike down major reform packages; super-majoritarian laws that regulate fundamental issues (like education, local government, or the organization of the armed forces), which were mostly enacted during the dictatorship and to which any reform can be blocked by a congressional minority of 3/7ths; and, echoing a problem that is widespread in the region, a hyper-presidentialism that relegates Congress to a secondary role.
In this scenario, and under the pressure of social movements that during the last presidential election called on people to mark their ballots in order to support a Constituent Assembly, President Bachelet committed her political forces to launch a constitutional process that would comply with three standards: respect for the current institutional arrangements, in order to motivate the participation of sceptical sectors of the political establishment; active participation of the citizenry, that for the first time in the Chilean history has been invited to be the main actor of this process; and inclusiveness, which implies being aware of different groups that have been historically and structurally excluded from political debates. What was drafted in general terms in her political manifesto is now being implemented, and the precise articulation and design of the constituent process is something that may attract the interest of broader regional or global audiences. Three features of the current constituent process should be highlighted.