Chile’s new constitution cannot be drafted under threat of violence
“Minimum guarantees for a constituent process”
2020 begins under the shadow of October 18. This new year will be shaped by the hangover of the crisis that began with the burning of the Santiago metro, a crisis that seems never to end. Today the political agenda is defined by these circumstances and is, in some sense, entirely dependent on them. It is in this scenario where we begin a process of constitutional change.
In general, constitutions are created in contexts of conflict or after some social crisis. But that does not mean that the process must take place without minimum guarantees that ensure proper procedures. These are important, first, because much of the legitimacy of the Fundamental Charter is based on the way in which it is created. Second, because the quality of the constitutional text (and, therefore, its level of effectiveness) depend on the concurrence of certain conditions that favor debate and deliberation, the search for agreements and the weighing of arguments. A task as great as this, setting the fundamental rules of community life and political power, requires profound effort, which cannot be taken lightly.
A constituent process requires, at least, that peace and law and order prevail. It is impossible to imagine that the body in charge of drafting a new Constitution can ever achieve a good result when the pressure of violence and disorderly, paralyzing demonstrations are just around the corner. Can a new Constitution be drafted in that scenario? Can a member of the convention vote calmly on an issue if he knows that if it is not popular, violence is likely to be unleashed again in the streets? On the other hand, it is troubling to say the least that when the country is immersed in a process of this magnitude, so many compatriots are still subject to the law of the street (and, sadly, in the most marginal neighborhoods, where cameras and lights never show up) .
Every constituent process also requires seriousness and republican spirit; however, the displays in the National Congress do not give much hope of these. Confusing the representation with the street spokesperson, our parliamentarians seem to be in a “reality show,” where the main concern is who gives the best performance. Instead of dealing with matters that require your attention, they abuse constitutional instruments for their own benefit. Nor do they seem prepared to defend strong convictions (the vote on parity gave clear evidence of this), nor do they direct their efforts to honoring the agreements reached, which inevitably stresses the political relations on which the whole process is based. How will they represent us in a possible constituent body?
The question, then, is whether minimum guarantees to start a constituent process exist, and if we are doing anything to achieve them. After all, the reasons that justify a constitutional change alone are not enough to guarantee a healthy process. Well, the fact is the procedures – and not just the contents – matter.
Mariana Canales is a researcher with the Institute of Social Studies.