Out of steam

What’s next as public and politicians are exhausted by the constitutional reform process in Chile?

Chile has been bathed in uncertainty since 78% of voters approved changing the Constitution in 2020. President Gabriel Boric assumed office in March 2022 and in September called a referendum to determine whether the public agreed with his proposed text for a new Constitution. Boric’s proposal was duly rejected by 62% of voters who labelled it “too long, too left-wing and too radical”.

Subsequently, public and political support for widespread constitutional reform has significantly weakened. A former member of the Constitutional Convention explained, “The current desire of all major stakeholders is NOT to draft anything, including the opposition, most of the citizens, and even some government members. Sentiment has moved in completely the opposite direction. Minor reforms, mostly cosmetic, is what most people are seeking, no one wants another lengthy process generating increased uncertainty in a very complex economic environment.”

“The current desire of all major stakeholders is NOT to draft anything, including the opposition, most of the citizens, and even some government members.”

Former member of the Constitutional Convention, Chile

President Boric and his team, facing the prospect of a lengthy redraft and an uncertain outcome, are also growing concerned about what is achievable within the term of his Presidency, “Time isn’t Boric’s friend, it is very unlikely that a new Constitution could be in place in time for him to benefit from its effects. With under three and a half years left of his presidential term, spending at least two years redrafting would limit the government’s opportunity window, especially considering that last year will likely be useless for the development of public policy and overwhelmed by the upcoming presidential elections.”

Boric is now exploring other routes to change, according to a former member of the Constitutional Convention, “Boric remains keen on reforming several industries he doesn’t like, such as pensions and private health, but is now seeking other routes to achieve this other than the constitutional change he needed.”

The public also still wants change, according to a former government policy adviser, “Most voters don’t want widespread reform of the entire Constitution, they primarily want better pensions and public services. For a while it seemed that a new Constitution may achieve this but increasingly it seems that Chileans are less confident a new Constitution will generate the changes they’re seeking. To its credit, the government has responded and is seeking new ways to achieve change but these don’t appear to be gathering enough public support either, particularly related to pensions and the management of indigenous peoples.”

“Most voters don’t want widespread reform of the entire constitution, they primarily want better pensions and public services.”

Former government policy adviser, Chile.

Boric’s flexible approach following defeat in the referendum has increased his approval rating, currently at 33% support, but this has been interpreted by some as a lack of strategy, the former policy adviser to the government commented, “Boric is being moved by ideological drivers and opportunism rather than strategy. His approval rating increased after a promise of better pensions and backing the police to support stability and order. This is a far cry from Boric’s previous position, either showing a capacity to be rationale or a lack of a long term plan. To me, it looks like he will move increasingly towards populism.”

Chilean citizens seem to have abandoned the idea that a new Constitution will solve their current problems and it now seems unlikely that any politician will push for a new process either. Some reforms might be successful but it appears unlikely that a completely new Constitution will be forthcoming.

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