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Chile president calls for referendum on new constitution proposal drafted by conservative councilors

After Chileans rejected the proposal for what many characterized as one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, they must now decide whether to vote for a document that some warn goes to the other extreme

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric receives a second Constitution draft by the Constitutional Council after the first one was rejected by voters in 2022, in Santiago, Chile November 7, 2023
Chile’s President Gabriel Boric receives a second Constitution draft by the Constitutional Council after the first one was rejected by voters in 2022, in Santiago, Chile November 7, 2023.SOFIA YANJARI (REUTERS)

Chilean President Gabriel Boric on Tuesday received the new constitution draft and called for a national plebiscite next month so citizens can decide whether the new charter will replace the country’s dictatorship-era constitution.

Chileans, who in September of last year resoundingly rejected a proposed constitution that had been written by a left-leaning convention, will decide on Dec. 17 whether to accept the new document that was largely written by conservative councilors.

“The definitive time for citizens has begun, and now it is their voice and their decision that truly matter,” Boric said during a formal ceremony in Congress to formally deliver the document and sign the decree that calls for the vote.

After Chileans rejected the proposal for what many characterized as one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, they must now decide whether to vote for a document that some warn goes to the other extreme.

One of the most controversial articles in the proposed new document says that “the law protects the life of the unborn,” with a slight change in wording from the current document that some have warned could make abortion fully illegal in the South American country. Chilean law currently allows the interruption of pregnancies for three reasons: rape, if the fetus is unable to survive and risk to the life of the mother.

Another article in the proposed document that has sparked controversy says prisoners who suffer a terminal illness and aren’t deemed to be a danger to society at large can be granted house arrest. Members of the left-wing opposition have said the measure could end up benefiting those who have been convicted of crimes against humanity during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

The new proposed document, which says Chile is a social and democratic state that “promotes the progressive development of social rights” through state and private institutions, is also being opposed by many local leaders who say it scraps tax on houses that are primary residences, a vital source of state revenue that is paid by the wealthiest.

Boric’s government has vowed to remain neutral in the debate over the new proposed text although several of the administration’s allies have already said they oppose the new document.

The Constitutional Council approved the proposed document, which has 17 chapters and 216 articles, in a 33-17 vote late last month.

Boric called on citizens Tuesday to weigh whether the new draft addresses the country’s major issues and challenges and to “decide if this is a proposal that unites us.”

Boric said Tuesday that if the document is accepted, his government will work on its implementation and if rejected, it will focus on “continuing to work and govern for the well-being of the people.”

Polls have suggested the new document has little chance of being approved, although as much as a third of the population appears to be undecided.

If the new charter is rejected, the Pinochet-era constitution will remain in effect.

The president of the Constitutional Council, right-wing Beatriz Hevia, delivered the document to Boric Tuesday and expressed optimism that “we can close the constitutional chapter” and start working on building “a more prosperous and united Chile” on Dec. 18.

Chileans will head to the polls a little more than a year after 62% voted to reject a proposed constitution that characterized Chile as a plurinational state, established autonomous Indigenous territories and prioritized the environment and gender parity.

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