- Gender parity for a constituent assembly voted down.
- Reserved seats for indigenous peoples passed in principle.
- UN report details “extrajudicial killings” by police and army.
The Chilean Senate has rejected by one vote a proposal to ensure that a potential constituent assembly to re-write the country’s constitution has an equal number of men and women.
After passing the Lower Chamber in December, the vote was originally passed in principle in the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 40 – 0. However, a subsequent vote on more specific measures, such as the mechanisms to achieve gender parity, was voted down due to a lack of quorum.
The bill will now return to the Lower Chamber. It appears, based on the senate process, that the bill has wide support across the aisle but strong disagreement on its implementation.
According to a recent study by the Ministry of Women, 40 percent of congressional candidates in the most recent elections were women, but less than 23 percent won a seat in the Lower Chamber.
In a separate vote on Thursday, the Senate approved in principle a bill to reserve a set number of seats for indigenous peoples. The bill needs to be passed again detailing the specifics, however if approved, indigenous peoples will receive between 20 and 24 reserved seats.
On April 26, more than 14 million Chileans will decide whether to hold a constituent assembly to replace the constitution of the Pinochet dictatorship from the 1980s. The referendum will not only ask whether or not to hold a constituent assembly, but also the makeup of such a body.
The two potential makeups include a “Constitutional Convention,” in which 155 citizens would be elected specifically for the body; or a “Mixed Convention” consisting of 86 citizens specifically elected for the body and 86 congressional members.
Regardless of the body’s makeup, a two-thirds majority will be required to pass any amendments. After the process of re-writing the constitution, which has a period of one year to do so, the text will then be put to a referendum.
The process has been highly criticised for the two-thirds requirement. Essentially, this measure allows for a minority group of just one third to block any amendment.
Although the current constitution has been amended over 40 times, it is still seen as the legal source of Chile’s system of extreme privatisations and has been a key target in the ongoing protests in the country.
A popular revolt against the government began in October when high school students protested against a 30 peso (US$0.04) rise to metro fares. Since then, huge protests, including one of over a million people in Santiago, have demanded significant reform.
President Sebastián Piñera responded with extreme state violence that has resulted in at least 26 deaths as of December. A recent UN report detailed “113 cases of torture and ill-treatment, and 24 cases of sexual violence…perpetrated by members of the police and army.”
Additionally, at least four deaths involved “arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful deaths involving State agents,” which could “amount to extrajudicial killings.” Between October 18 and December 6, over 28,000 people were detained.
Despite attempting to quell the protesters with concessions such as firing his entire cabinet and offering modest tax increases on the rich, the protests continued. Since Piñera announced a referendum on a constituent assembly the protests have decreased in size but still continue in many parts of the country.
According to Pedro Santander, an academic at the Strategic Latin American Center of Geopolitics (CELAG), the protests revolve “around popular revolt that embodies how fed up Chileans are with a model that has privatised and made precarious everything: health, education, social security, basic services (and) water. Absolutely everything is privatised in Chile.”
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the region, Chile is also one of the most unequal. OECD data shows that the top 0.1 percent of the country receive 19.5 percent of all income. The economic inequality is particularly bad for retirees. “The average monthly (pension) benefit is about $300, less than earnings from a minimum wage job.”