Experts Discuss the Surprising Results of Chile’s Constitutional Election

May 31, 2021

In mid-May, just one day after Chileans elected the members of the constitutional convention that are to draft a new national charter, the Santiago Center and the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) hosted a webinar to discuss the unexpected results.

Moderated by Vicky Murillo, Director of ILAS, the panel included Kathya Araujo, Faculty Member at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IDEA) at Universidad de Santiago; Loreto Cox, Assistant Professor at the School of Government of Universidad Católica; and Juan Pablo Luna, Associate Professor at the School of Government and the Political Science Institute at Universidad Católica.

With a moderate turnout of 43% of eligible voters, the election implied a significant rearrangement of the Chilean political system: the majority of those elected were independent candidates, while the main center-left alliance finished in fourth place and the right-wing was unable to reach the third of members needed to hold veto power in the constitutional convention.

During her opening words, Murillo said that the results were a clear consequence of the social crisis that erupted in October 2019, which were the precursor to the October 2020 plebiscite, in which 78% of voters approved the writing of a new national charter.

The panelists commented on the turn towards the left in the composition of the convention and the clear weakening of the traditional party structure. “Perhaps the biggest surprise is the high representation of independent candidates. Over 40 members of the convention are not associated to any party,” said Cox, adding that the result of the right-wing coalition was related to the lack of popular support of the government. “On the right we have a completely defensive and cornered coalition, which had great results in four [wealthy] districts [out of 28] and did very poorly in many other parts of the country, obviously affected by the government’s low popularity,” noted Luna.

Besides the high representation of independent candidates, other particularities of Chile’s constitutional convention included reserving 17 seats for indigenous groups and ensuring gender parity, being the first such convention of its kind in the world, allowing for a diverse group of people to be elected. On the heterogeneity of the assembly, Araujo commented: “Not only feminism enters the convention, but also ecology and environmentalism. These are very important feelings in Chile, but they have never had representation before.” She also referred to questions over the operation of the convention itself: “This is going to be a big laboratory. Are there going to be blocks or is it going to be a primacy of singularities? How will the autonomy of these individuals play out?”