Chile Draft Charter Showcases Divide Likely to Scuttle Proposals

(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s Constitutional Council on Tuesday presented a draft charter in a ceremony mirroring deep divisions in the nation over the second rewrite of the basic laws in as many years.

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The draft constitution emerged from a social and moral crisis in Chile that started with a wave of protests in late 2019, and it aims to unite a fractured nation, said Council President Beatriz Hevia. On the other hand, government politicians said it failed to meet the demands of voters looking to soften Chile’s free-market economic model.

Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric, who was swept to power following that same wave of social unrest, said the state would organize a free and fair referendum on the proposals, while failing to endorse the draft drawn up by the right-wing council.

The Dec. 17 plebiscite will cap one way or the other a four-year push to replace the current charter that dates from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Supporters say the text will provide both citizens and companies with more security and liberty, while detractors say it imperils women’s rights and will fail to unify the country. Polls show support is growing, though it remains well below the simple majority needed for approval.

“Even though the proposed constitution would establish Chile as a ‘social rights’ state, it broadly maintains the current constitutional framework on economic matters,” Banco Itau economists including Andres Perez wrote in a note. While calls for consensus were heard during the drafting of the text, “the plebiscite campaign will be characterized by further division.”

Indeed, some left-leaning politicians who’d attended Tuesday’s ceremony saying they would campaign against the new charter. Meanwhile, Hevia, who is a member of the right-wing Partido Republicano, said the council “is defining the future of our country,” after a loss of trust in the state and its institutions.

Abortion Rights

Just 35% of voters will back the new constitution, while 50% will reject and 15% are undecided, according to a Cadem poll published this week. While overall support levels have increased from a low-point of 21% in mid-September, at least half of women, people age 18-34 and the poor say they won’t approve it.

The document’s most controversial points include the stipulation that “the law protects the life of whoever is about to be born,” stoking concern it could jeopardize abortion rights and even access to certain types of birth control. Women in Chile can currently interrupt pregnancy in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger or if the fetus won’t survive outside the womb.

The text takes a tough approach to immigration that’s been decried by human rights activists, with a proposition to expel any migrant who has entered Chile clandestinely in the shortest time possible.

The proposed charter lays out extensive private property rights, describes the central bank as an autonomous entity in charge of ensuring price stability and also exempts people’s primary residences from any type of property tax.

Charter writers composed the document while obeying ground rules established in attempts to fend off any radical proposals. Still, critics say the right-wing party members who dominated the re-write did too little to reach consensus with minority groups in the Constitutional Council.

A prior attempt at a new charter was overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum last year. At that time, critics said it incorporated proposals that would have entailed extreme change, such as the elimination of the senate and creation a parallel justice system for indigenous communities.

Boric’s administration has reiterated that there won’t be another attempt at a constitutional rewrite if the latest text is rejected in December.

(Re-casts story, adds economist quotes, polling data and details from the draft charter starting in the fourth paragraph)

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