Chile Is Ready for a New Constitution

By opening the door to a new founding charter, Chileans are ready to build their own future — by dismantling the constitutional edifice that Augusto Pinochet left behind.

Chileans awoke on Friday to a historic agreement, signed by lawmakers and leaders of nearly every political faction, setting down the rules for a path to a new constitution. It will be the first time in the nation’s history that all citizens will be given a voice and a vote in the drafting of their own sovereign future.

The text of the two-page compact, reached in the halls of the National Congress in Santiago and titled “Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution,” is a simple yet striking step toward forging a new founding charter. That charter, if ratified by the people, will replace the Constitution of 1980 imposed by the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Under the terms of this agreement, Chileans will vote in April on a two-question referendum. The first question is straightforward: Do you want a new constitution? The second asks voters to hold either a citizens-only constitutional convention or a “mixed” constitutional convention, including citizens and members of the National Congress.

If the first referendum question passes, and regardless of what Chileans choose for the second, in October 2020 voters will directly elect the citizen representatives for the convention. That elected assembly (with or without members of Congress) will then meet for nine months, with the possibility of a three-month extension, to draft the new constitution. A two-thirds supermajority will be required for each new provision. The drafters will, in effect, be writing the people’s will on a blank page; nothing in the old constitution will be binding on the framers.

There are many technical aspects about this process that the Chilean National Congress and civil society have yet to iron out, like the size of the constitutional assembly, its representativeness and how indigenous populations will be accounted for. All of those details are profoundly significant if Chileans want a constitution that protects the rights of all people.

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