Chile’s constitutional referendum

It seems Chile’s voters are quite decisively rejecting the proposed new constitution. Turnout was high.

Such a result would be quite an indictment of the entire process. Others may know better than I would, but I would imagine it is unusual in a democracy for a constitutional-replacement project to result in failure at its final stage. The constituent assembly evidently did a poor job at looking down the game tree and discerning what the public would accept.

In an earlier thread, there has been a discussion ongoing about the constitution, and a link to the draft (both Spanish and English).

20 thoughts on “Chile’s constitutional referendum

  1. The two cases I can think of of new constitutions being rejected are Zimbabwe 2000 and Kenya 2005, although I’m sure there are more depending on how you define “new”. The Chilean process is unlike those two in the sense that the Convention was directly elected, was not a tool of the executive (at least under Pinera), and followed a fairly counter-majoritarian process given that decisions in the Convention were made by a 2/3 majority. I think this probably reflects the fact that the election to the Constitutional Convention was conducted towards the end of the term of a very unpopular centre-right president, and as such the centre-right was deprived of a blocking share of seats they would have won in normal circumstances. If you apply the Votes from Seats formula for presidential party vote share in midterm elections to the 2021 Constituent Assembly election, you get a predicted vote of 22% for Chile Vamos, which is only slightly more than the 20% they actually got.

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  2. Voter turnout yesterday – 86% in Chile itself (and 61.2% among expatriates) – was boosted by the one-time re-introduction of compulsory voting, but it does not appear to have helped Boric’s government one least bit. As a percentage of registered voters, the 32% share for Approve correlated very strongly at the commune level (0.96) with Boric’s 30.7% 2021 runoff share of registered voters, while the turnout increase correlated almost just as strongly (0.92) with the increase between Kast’s 2021 runoff share of 24.3% among registered voters and yesterday’s Reject vote, which reached an absolute majority of 52.1% of registered voters; Kast’s vote also had a fairly strong correlation of 0.75 with the Reject vote.

    I’m also minded of Italy’s 2016 constitutional referendum, which while not a wholesale replacement of the country’s 1946 constitution, sought to amend it significantly, particularly changing the composition and powers of the Senate – not unlike Chile’s failed proposed constitution – but was also rejected by voters by a similarly large margin.

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    • Yes, the Italy 2016 referendum is a good example. If I were trying to draw a good comparison set, I would probably want to include cases that were less than full replacements, but also more significant than the bulk of referendums that occur on constitutional amendments in countries that have these.

      Making a valid comparison set would be challenging, though.

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  3. I know this is off-topic but if anyone can make sense of this situation for me, it’s one of you all.
    The Alaska ranked choice ‘primary’ for its single congressional seat was also a ‘special’ election for the remainder of the
    term of Don Young, who died months ago? The four top vote-getters were supposed to move on to the general election in
    November (without any ranking) and then the top four, using the same results, were to be subjected to the ranked choice
    process until a majority winner was found? Oh yeah, and then the fourth place finisher dropped out of the running and the
    fifth place finisher wasn’t advanced, they decided to just go ahead with the three remaining candidates? Have I got this right factually so far? I just can’t think of another similar instance of ‘two elections in one’. Can you help, because the media hasn’t?

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  4. There’s nothing new under the sun.

    The Batavian Revolution established a National Assembly which was to produced a draft constitution for the Netherlands. The National Assembly was divided among chiefly divided among federalists and unitarists. It produced a constitution which was somewhat of a compromise between the two; it was also notoriously long and contained a great deal of provisions usually thought of as belonging in regular legislation. It was rejected at a referendum by almost 4 to 1. The next year a coup d’etat by the French-backed unitarists ensured the next draft would be something less of a compromise. That draft was put to a referendum where federalists would not be allowed to vote and was ratified by over 90% of voters.

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    • In 1898 New South Wales voted for Federation, but did not make the required threshold of 80,000 votes. That threw the whole federation project into doubt. Anne Twomey.

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  5. Famously the first attempted constitution for the French Fourth Republic was rejected as well, although with a significantly smaller margin.

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  6. I finally read it in full. Despite my earlier defence of its length, I would have voted against it. While independent constitutional organs are a good idea, the number should be kept far below what the Chilean convention proposed.

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    • Interesting, Alan. These organs (which in a chapter I coauthored years ago we called “superintendence institutions”) have really proliferated in some constitutions in recent decades, especially in Latin America.

      I’d be interested in seeing the list of what this constitutional draft had in it. (I probably will not take the time to read it all!)

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      • unnamed autonomous labor standards body

        National Council of Bioethics

        Ombudsman’s Office

        Office of the Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child

        National Water Agency

        Nature Ombudsman’s Office

        Electoral Service

        Directorate of the Civil Service

        Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic

        Central Bank

        Public Defender’s Office

        National Data Protection Agency

        Public Prosecutor’s Office

        Council for Transparency

        Council of Justice

        I don’t guarantee that’s an exhaustive list and several are required to decentralise and their branches are also independent organs.

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      • It seems to me there are five basic functions that should be performed independently—human rights, elections, complaints, audits, and integrity. Logically that leads to an independent human rights commission, electoral commission, auditor-general/comptroller-general, ombudsperson, and anti-corruption commission. They should be independent of the executive and legislature. They should be able to hold inquiries at their own initiative, hold public hearings, compel evidence, and initiate prosecutions. Ideally their independence should be protected by the constitution and their funding should be insulated from the political branches. Israel and Chile effectively merge the audit and complaints functions, although this draft would have separated them.

        Beyond those five I think you are starting to struggle to justify anything more. Children’s ombudspersons/commissioners are becoming common. Several South African provinces have sustainability commissioners. The UK and its constituent countries have public appointments commissioners. Jamaica has a contractor-general. South Africa has a gender equality commission, and a Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. I’d think gender and minority rights both belong to the human rights commission. Australian economist Nicholas Gruen has proposed an evaluator-general, who would do roughly what the Jamaican contractor-general does, but I find it hard to separate his idea of evaluation from efficiency audits by the auditor-general.

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        • I find myself the middle. Here’s a couple of random thoughts:

          We (white Australians) tend to blame the empire exclusively for colonial atrocities and ignore that Australian colonies had very high autonomy from the 1850s and used it to treat indigenous peoples more harshly than the imperial authorities had, Ditto. Canada and New Zealand.
          We (white people in general) need to stop minimising inherited advantage and consigning oppression to the remote past. Example: indigenous land dispossession in Australia continued into the present century. Example: Racial minorities were excluded from veteran benefits after WWI and WWII in Australian the US. If the government helped your grandparents buy a house in the 1940s in Australia or the US that’s inherited advantage within living memory.

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        • That’s what I keep thinking when I hear Canadians calling the monarchy a ‘symbol of colonialism’, most recently now with Quebec nationalists refusing to swear the oath to the King.

          Relatedly, that absurd expression, ‘cut ties with the crown’ (imagine republicans in Britain using that phrase…); well, which crown? Presumably they’d say ‘the British crown’, so presumably they want to recall their High Commissioner from London?

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  7. Chile’s Congress has passed legislation (currently pending the President’s signature) to establish a second Constituent Assembly. There are a number of changes to the procedure, but the most relevant one here is that the Assembly will be slashed in size from 155 to 50. The constituencies will be coterminous with those used for the Senate, giving an average DM of 2.94 (excluding the indigenous seats, the number of which has also been cut drastically), down from 4.9 for the body elected in 2021.

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    • Fifty seems rather too small. I think elected constituent assemblies usually larger–or at least no smaller–than the first chamber of the legislature. On the other hand, Colombia in 1991 had a constituent assembly of only around 70.

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