A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Valparaíso, Chile on May 7, 2023.

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Valparaíso, Chile on May 7, 2023.

(Photo: Cristobal Basaure Araya/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Chilean Right-Wing Wins Control of Council Tasked With Writing New Constitution

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

In another defeat for Chilean President Gabriel Boric and his fellow leftists, the country's right-wing parties on Sunday won a majority of seats on a 50-member commission tasked with rewriting the constitution imposed more than 40 years ago by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship.

Chile's Republican Party—led by Jose Antonio Kast, the far-right presidential candidate Boric defeated in a December 2021 runoff election—garnered just over 35% of the vote, according to the Chilean Electoral Service. A separate coalition of right-wing parties secured roughly 21%. Boric's left-wing coalition, meanwhile, captured nearly 29%, and centrist parties combined to take the remaining 14%.

The special election determined the makeup of the Constitutional Council that will soon write a new charter for the nation. Kast's far-right party won 23 seats, the other right-wing coalition picked up 11, and Boric's left-wing alliance gained 16. This means the Chilean right amassed the three-fifths majority needed to approve articles over the opposition of progressives.

As Reutersreported Monday: "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. Voters will then approve or reject the new proposal in December."

Sunday's outcome marked a continued reversal of recent political developments. As recently as October 2020, Chileans voted by a 4-to-1 margin to replace the neoliberal constitution that was implemented in 1980 under anti-democratic conditions.

In the wake of that historic plebiscite, voters in May 2021 elected a progressive slate of delegates to the constituent assembly originally put in charge of rewriting Pinochet's constitution, raising hopes that the citizen-led body would produce an emancipatory charter.

Following months of debate at 103 plenary sessions, Chile's gender-equal 154-member constituent assembly finalized a draft constitution in May 2022. The 178-page document aimed to empower workers with guaranteed labor rights and an expanded social welfare state, enshrine gender equality and Indigenous rights, and prioritize environmental protection.

However, the first rewrite was rejected last September by nearly 62% of voters. The defeat of what progressive scholars around the world hailed as a "visionary product" from which other countries have "much to learn" happened thanks in no small part to the right-wing forces that flooded the country with misinformation ahead of the vote.

The spread of misinformation by reactionary elements within Chile was mirrored by a global smear campaign led by corporate media outlets.

For example, The Economist—which actively helped foment the 1973 coup that overthrew democratically elected socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende and brought Pinochet to power—criticized the first rewrite as a "left-wing wish list," while The Financial Timesdenounced it as a threat to Chile's "business climate."

Delegates to the original convention sought to guarantee universal access to health, housing, education, and a livable planet as human rights in an effort to combat the inequality that has been so thoroughly entrenched by the existing neoliberal policy blueprint that remains in place more than three decades after Pinochet's ouster.

Now that Kast, a vocal Pinochet supporter, and his right-wing allies are playing a decisive role in the second rewrite, it is more likely than not that Chileans will be asked at the end of this year to vote for a new constitution that does not differ fundamentally from the old one.

Speaking in Santiago on Sunday, Kast declared that "today is the first day of a better future... Chile has defeated a failed government."

While Boric took office last March amid "a wave of optimism surrounding reform," Reuters noted, "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," the news outlet noted. "The president has since distanced himself from the process but vowed to support it."

After he voted Sunday morning, Boric told reporters that "the government won't meddle with the process and will respect the entity's autonomy in its deliberation."

Following Kast's victory speech, Boric spoke from the presidential palace in Santiago, calling for unity and encouraging his right-wing opponents to learn from the failure of the initial rewrite.

"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."

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