Chile’s ongoing constitutional process: 2023 election

Chilean voters selected a new “constitutional council” on 7 May. This renewed process of constitution drafting comes after voters decisively rejected a draft that had been developed by an elected “constitutional convention” in a referendum in September, 2022.

This council consists of 51 elected members (the previous convention had 155). Unlike the previous body, which needed a two thirds vote to submit a draft to the public, this one requires only three fifths. However, it also is bound by a series of principles in a prior agreement among some of Chile’s parties and is supposed to work with a draft created by an expert commission appointed by congress. (Details of the rather complex process at Constitution Net.)

This council was elected via open lists (per the last-linked item), but I do not have the other details of the electoral system. The election result is rather short of being fully representative. The Republican Party won 22 of the 51 seats on only 34.3% of the votes. That’s an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.26, which is very much on the high side for a “proportional” system. Two parties that combined for over around 14% of the votes obtained no representation at all and nearly 21% of votes were blank or “invalid.” The Republicans are the party of the 2021 presidential runner-up, José Antonio Kast, who is on the pinochetista far right. Combined with other right-wing parties, the broader right has the three fifths majority needed to approve a draft (“Safe Chile,” which includes the old RN and UDI, won 11).

Another notable difference is this council will have one indigenous representative, elected on 3% of the votes cast for indigenous lists. The previous constitutional convention had 17 indigenous seats elected separately from the 138 general seats. (That 3% this time is over 300,000 votes, whereas the 17 previously represented around 283,000, but total turnout and valid votes were much lower then.)

The previous assembly was evidently well to the left of the median voter (based on the nature of its draft and how badly it was rejected in the referendum). This one would seem to be well to the right of the median (after all, the president, elected in a two-candidate runoff in 2021, heads an alliance that includes the Communist Party). Whether the constraints on the council elected this time will lead to the adoption of a draft acceptable to the public is an open question. In any case, Chile is certainly showing the difficulties inherent in attempting to established a representative process for constitutional replacement.

8 thoughts on “Chile’s ongoing constitutional process: 2023 election

  1. The Last Constitutional Assembly was elected in opposition to the then right wing President. It looks like it has now happened in reverse.

    Why wasn’t sortition used to chose the Constitutional Assembly? This Constitutional Assembly election is like a kin to a by-election or a U.S Midterm election simply designed for voters to vote against the Government which why Australia does not have separate House elections from half Senate elections anymore.


    • Good point on the opposition observation.

      Have any constitutions been devised by citizens assembly or other sortition-type processes? It seems like it could be a concept worth deploying for this purpose, but I would not be able to name a precedent for it.


      • The Irish constitutional convention 2012—2014 was one third MPs and 2/3 citizens chosen by random draw. Contrary to some expectations, the officials did not dominate and the convention produced proposals on abortion and marriage equality that were (1) unthinkable to the political class and (2) adopted by large majorities at referendum.


        • Iceland also had a citizens constitutional assembly but the proposals were blocked by the parliament.


      • I am concern Chile is going to going through this process of drafting a new constitution. I wonder if the draft of this Constitution will be rejected again.


        • Seems like a significant risk. However, maybe the current constitution is still a consensus preference, even if only by default. It was imposed by a military government, but has been amended several times under democratic conditions at the same time that Chilean democracy has matured and its economy has grown substantially. Perhaps it’s not so bad, after all.


  2. The electoral system was seemingly the same as that used for the Senate, with members elected in 16 districts, giving a low average district magnitude of 3.25. Despite the abandonment of a fixed DM of 2 as part of the 2015 electoral reform, the small size of the Senate and the requirement that districts be contiguous with regions means that six districts elect two members only. Most of these districts elected one member from the left and one member from the right, although the greater fragmentation under the new party system allowed the Republican Party to win both seats in District 2 with 41% of the vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. Preserving both malapportionment and electoral-system restrictiveness in a constitutional assembly seems unwise. I would think that constitutional assemblies would tend to be larger and/or more proportional than the legislature in place at the time, on the grounds that they are meant to represent the constituent power, i.e., “the people.”

      I am thinking specifically of Colombia’s in 1991 (smaller, at 73 members, but a nationwide district) and Bulgaria’s in 1990-91 (much larger than the parliament). But maybe these are not typical and I am inviting a tendency that I think should exist!

      I also happened to attend debates of both of those, so my sample may be highly biased!


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