—Claudia Heiss, Instituto de Asuntos Publicos, Universidad de Chile
On April 23rd former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), the front-runner candidate for the November presidential election, announced a commission to study a new constitution. The group is composed of nine lawyers (including two women) some of whom contributed to the 2005 reform signed by Bachelet’s predecessor Ricardo Lagos. That reform eliminated some of the most ominous institutional enclaves of the Pinochet dictatorship, like the appointed and for-life senators, and the political role of the armed forces through the National Security Council.
The center-left coalition that ruled the country from 1990 to 2010, the Concertacion, had been reluctant to replace the 1980 Constitution, an illegitimate decree of the dictatorship, on grounds that the transition to democracy had to play by the rules and produce incremental reforms in time. Social pressure, however, has increased since 2006, demanding deeper political reforms that include a change of the binomial electoral system which guarantees a legislative tie between the center-right and center- left coalitions. The supermajorities of the Constitution and its 18 Organic Constitutional Laws (requiring 4/7 of the legislature to be amended) have given veto power to the parties of the right, blocking any substantive political reform.
Some of Bachelet’s main allies, like president of the Socialist Party Camilo Escalona, have argued that attempts to replace the 1980 Constitution would distract from more urgent and achievable goals, like tax reform. “Demanding a new constitution when there is no institutional crisis is like smoking opium”, he said in an interview last September.
The 1980 Constitution has experienced 131 amendments, affecting 79 out of its 120 articles. The broadest reforms took place in 1989, before the transition to democracy, and in 2005, when President Ricardo Lagos argued that this was in fact a new constitution and replaced the signature of the military in the text with his and his minister´s signatures. Today, some social sectors demand a Constituent Assembly. With the right opposed to further constitutional change and the Concertacion divided, such a mechanism seems improbable.
Suggested Citation: Claudia Heiss , Bachelet Appoints Group to Study New Constitution for Chile, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, May 1, 2013, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2013/05/bachelet-appoints-group-to-study-new-constitution-for-chile