Chile president receives draft of new proposed constitution

SANTIAGO (AP) — President Gabriel Boric on Monday was presented with the formal draft of a proposed constitution meant to replace the charter imposed by a military dictatorship 41 years ago and usher in fundamental changes for Chile.

Chileans are to vote in a September plebiscite whether to adopt the charter, which was drawn up by a Constitutional Convention elected last year.

“This September 4th, it will once again be the people who will have the last word on their destiny,” Boric wrote on Twitter.

In the first of the draft’s articles, Chile is described as a “a social and democratic state” as well as “plurinational, intercultural and ecological.” The document recognizes the existence of 11 Indigenous groups, which represent 12.8% of the country’s 19 million inhabitants.

Among other things, the draft would require a new public health care system and a process to return land to Indigenous peoples. It also lays out new rights, including the right to “adequate and dignified housing” and equal pay for equal work between men and women.

The head of the convention, María Elisa Quinteros, handed the proposal, which includes 388 articles, to Boric in a formal ceremony. Boric then signed a decree setting the date for the plebiscite, in which Chileans will be required to vote.

“I feel honored to head up this historic moment,” Quinteros said.

More than three-fourhs of Chilean voters in a 2020 referendum called for a new constitution, but the ceremonial handover of the draft comes at a time when people appear to be increasingly skeptical of the convention’s work.

Polls at the beginning of the year indicated a clear majority intended to vote in favor of the new constitution, but surveys since April have found a marked change in opinion, with those who oppose the new document appearing to be ahead.

Analysts say the arrogant attitude of some delegates to the Constitutional Convention rather than the content of the proposal has soured Chileans.

Giorgio Jackson, the presidency’s minister, alluded to that circumstance by saying that “we have seen a very bad evaluation of the process.”

During his speech Monday, Boric also urged Chileans not to consider the plebescite a poll on his government. The September vote “is not, nor should it be, an evaluation of the government. It’s the debate about Chile’s future and destiny,” he said.

Although Boric was sworn in less than four months ago with a high approval rating, recent surveys have shown Chileans growing increasingly sour on his administration amid an increase in crime and high inflation.

The handover of the new document coincides with the dissolution of the Constitutional Convention a year to the date after it was set up.

If the draft is rejected in the plebiscite, the current constitution, written during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, will remain in effect even though there is widespread agreement that the country needs a new charter.

If the document is approved by majority vote, it will launch a process that will take years to become a reality. Congress would have to approve new laws to implement its requirements.