Chile in limbo as voters reject progressive constitution

Proposal prioritised environmental, indigenous and women’s rights

Chile has been left in constitutional limbo after voters rejected a daringly progressive new charter for the South American country at the polls on Sunday.

The draft proposed by a constitutional assembly which prioritised environmental, indigenous and women’s rights was rejected by 62 per cent of voters against just 38 per cent in favour. This overwhelming dismissal forced President Gabriel Boric to convene a series of meetings on Monday with the leaders of the Andean country’s main political parties on how to proceed.

“We have to listen to the voice of the people, we have to be self-critical,” said the left-wing leader who had championed the work of the assembly tasked with drawing up the new charter.

Legally the country is still required to approve a new constitution following a plebiscite in October 2020 which voted by a 78 to 22 per cent margin to ditch the current one which was imposed by the former dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1981, though it has been much modified since the return of democracy in 1990.


The 2020 vote was held in response to violent street protests that broke out in 2019 as frustrations at entrenched inequality in one of Latin America’s rare economic success stories boiled over. But on Sunday more Chileans voted to reject the new draft than participated in the 2020 plebiscite to bin the existing constitution.

Among the options available to Mr Boric and the political class are empowering a new constitutional assembly to draft yet another proposal or opting to leave the task in the hands of congress. The country’s main right-wing parties are demanding a greater role for traditional parties than the one they were granted in the constitutional assembly which was dominated by independents.

Sunday’s result is a major political blow to Mr Boric who only assumed office in March. The campaign to approve the new draft was hampered by its association with the leftist leader who has struggled in office to tackle the highest inflation rate in decades and soaring rates of violent crime.

The campaign to reject the new charter was aided by divisions on the left, with two former centre-left presidents heavily critical of the draft proposal produced by the assembly. Opponents of the spurned draft criticised it as “naive” and said its proposal to radically extend environmental protections would hamper the crucial mining sector, one of the Chilean economy’s main motors.

With its proposed enshrinement of universal public healthcare, housing, education and a raft of other social rights, the text had sought to tackle the causes of the widespread discontent that exploded into violence in 2019.

But it also aimed to provide one of Latin America’s most conservative societies with one of the world’s most progressive constitutions that would have greatly expanded a woman’s access to abortion and mandated gender parity in government while declaring the state to be a “plurinational” one in which indigenous communities would gain sweeping autonomy over their affairs.

Following their draft’s rejection several members of the constitutional assembly were quick to recognise their defeat. “The wise people have spoken. The Convention has failed. We have failed the country,” admitted Renato Garín.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America