Chile has begun this Monday to write a proposal for a new Constitution with the installation of a commission of 24 experts, 12 men and 12 women, elected by Congress. The South American country is trying to replace its current Magna Carta for the second time in less than four years, after 62% of citizens rejected the previous proposal in September 2022. The group, made up mostly of jurists, will be led by a woman, as progressivism requested: lawyer Verónica Undurraga, from the center-left Party for Democracy (PPD). The right, meanwhile, has been left with the vice presidency, in the hands of the constitutionalist Sebastián Soto, close to former president Sebastián Piñera and representative of Evópoli, an opposition formation.
The commission of experts took office this morning in a sober ceremony at the Senate in Santiago de Chile. He has three months to prepare a text that will serve as the basis for the work of the constitutional council, a joint body of 50 councilors that will be elected by the citizens on May 7. This stage begins with a challenge: the disinterest and distrust of Chileans with the current constituent process, as reflected in different surveys. According to the Pulso Ciudadano poll, although 50.9% of the population agrees with changing the Constitution, 57.1% have little or no confidence in the new process.
The modesty and moderation of the ceremony in which the commission took office, which did not have invited authorities, was reflected from the discreet arrival of the advisers to the Parliament building to the words of various members. Two concepts were repeated: sobriety and respect. Although it was not mandatory, the group sang the national anthem as soon as the ceremony began where they officially took office. It was the right that asked to do it last week and there was a consensus to make the gesture. It was a nod to the national traditions and history that the previous convention ignored and which caused, in part, the Chileans to overwhelmingly reject their proposal in the September referendum.
Prior to the ceremony, the group of experts met with the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, Álvaro Elizalde and Vlado Mirosevic, respectively, both from the ruling party. The 24 commissioners sat mixed, with no differences by political bloc. “The Republic is in your hands,” Elizalde, a socialist militant, told them.
Chile has undergone a long process to change the Constitution that was born in 1980 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), which has been reformed dozens of times in democracy. It was the path offered by the political class to citizens after the social outbreak of October 2019. After the failure of the process last September, when Chile rejected a project that sought to change a large part of Chilean institutions, most of the political forces with representation in Parliament, they reached a new political agreement to try again, but in a completely different way than before: 12 constitutional bases were established that cannot be broken -such as Chile continuing to be a unitary state-, the installation of this commission of experts that started today and that will work before the elected councilors take office and, additionally, a technical committee of 14 jurists that will act as arbitrators.
The oldest expert, the former Minister of Justice of the second Piñera government, Hernán Larraín (75 years old), led the ceremony at the headquarters of Parliament in Santiago de Chile, in the center of the city. As soon as the commissioners accepted the position, sober applause was heard in the building from the end of the 19th century, witness to the main events of Chilean political life in recent decades.
Both the ceremony and the attitude of the 24 experts were marked by low profile and order. It was a total contrast with what happened on July 4, 2021, when the constitutional convention that drafted the rejected project was installed. This Monday there were no incidents in the street, like two years ago. The lack of agreements in the previous process, which were later reflected in the text itself, meant that even the election of the board of directors lasted several hours. This time, however, the same did not happen. The specialists, who seem careful not to make the same mistakes, elected their president and vice president in less than 30 seconds, with a show of hands. They were the two names that were already agreed upon.
“As president of this expert commission, I want my hallmark to be respect for my colleagues and co-workers, and for the support staff that will help us in this task,” said Verónica Undurraga as soon as she was elected. “No one should feel invisible, no one should feel worn out, neither defeated nor defeated. On the contrary, their well-being, respect for their life projects, their dignity, the protection of their dignity will be our objective,” added the center-left lawyer, who came to the commission for the PPD party, the collective of former president Ricardo Lagos. (2000-2006). The current Minister of the Interior, Carolina Tohá, belongs to this party.
The integration of the board of directors reflected the moderation with which this new constituent process begins. The left of the official alliance I Approve Dignity, made up of the Communist Party and Boric’s Broad Front, will not have a leading role, although their representatives strategically installed themselves in the thematic subcommittees where they are interested in influencing, such as the political system and the one that will take care of social rights.
The first task of the expert commission will be to prepare an index of the constitutional draft. They will work against the clock, because in 90 days their proposal must be ready to deliver it to the constitutional council, which will assume its functions on June 7.
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