The government does not prioritize the constituent process. In an interview for Caras magazine published on May 21st, the same day she delivered the annual report of her administration to the Congress, President Michelle Bachelet defended the progress made by her government against the assessment made by Smart Citizen Foundation (Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente), which on the eve of the annual report claimed that the level of fulfillment of her government platform is lower than 50 percent. The Foundation’s assessment stressed that the areas where it was most needed “to speed up” progress was the amendment to the Fisheries Act and the promise of a new Constitution.
That warning contrasts with the views expressed by the President in the interview, in which she said about the constituent process “I said it was going to be a participatory, institutional and democratic process, but it was key not to rush it”. The speech before Congress ratifies this attitude. There were no new announcements regarding the continuation of the constituent process designed by the government, which was expected given the level of progress of the constituent process in relation to the itinerary outlined in October 2015, and also considering the remaining time for the current presidential term, which ends in March 2018. However, in relation to other policies to which the government is committed, the constituent process seemed to lose priority. In fact, in her speech the President urged Congress to expedite different bills (decriminalization of abortion, and educational reform, among others), but she did not do the same with regard to the constituent process. Despite this, in the above-mentioned interview, the President stated she will “fulfill the promise to make a constitutional reform to enable the making of a new Constitution”.
In the same interview, the President reiterated her commitment to submit a draft new Constitution to Congress, based on the results of the 2016 participatory process. This part of the constituent itinerary of the government is, however, inconsistent with the fact that the ruling authorities have acknowledged the current constitutional norms do not allow Congress to pass a new Constitution, but only to make partial amendments.
Presidential Candidates and Constituent Process. Beyond the ambiguous intention to send a new draft Constitution to Congress, the Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Nicolás Eyzaguirre, is correct in claiming that “it will be completely inescapable that the constitutional issue will continue to be discussed during the next Government”. In fact, opinions have already appeared in this regard, which will surely proliferate as the presidential and parliamentary elections approach the end of the year. Positions range from those who propose a Constituent Assembly (as Beatriz Sánchez (leading candidate in the Presdidential primary of the Broad Front coalition [Frente Amplio]) did when asked in a television debate with her opponent in the primary, Alberto Mayol, when asked what would be her first government action), moderate positions like that of Alejandro Guillier (Presidential candidate of the New Majority coalition [Nueva Mayoría]) who acknowledges the need for a new constitution but as a means to carry out a a platform of progressive reforms, and up to position shared by right wings candidates who express willingness to discuss, in particular, the content of proposed partial amendments to the current constitution in order to improve it.
Indigenous peoples. An area in which public debate on the constitutional issue if indeed focused on the substance of potential amendments rather than on the amendment procedure, is that of indigenous peoples. There seems to be a widespread acknowledgment that the relationship between the Chilean State and the indigenous peoples should be constitutionally regulated. At least in this area, there is a direct connection between the political issues related to the indigenous peoples and the constitutional change. This recognition is, of course, behind the indigenous constituent process which the government is implementing, while several presidential candidates have recognized it as well: from the leftist Sánchez and the center-left candidate Guillier, to conservative right wing candidate Manuel José Ossandón. In her annual address to Congress, President Bachelet announced that the new draft Constitution she will present to the Legislative branch will include “Constitutional Recognition and Political Participation” of indigenous communities.
Among the recent opinions in the presidential race that of primary contender of Broad Front coalition Alberto Mayol stands out, as he not only claims there is connection between the content of the Constitution and the solution to the conflicts between the Chilean State and the indigenous peoples, but argues that this connection requires a specific mechanism for the new Constitution to be drafted. In this sense, he considers a Constituent Assembly as a way of providing a “political solution” to the conflict.