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Chile is sliding towards constitutional suicide


After more than 10 months of work, Chile’s constitutional convention recently completed a draft of what it hopes will soon become the country’s highest law. The document removes the certainty of personal choice – including in health care, pensions and education – weakens property rights, increases the role of the state in the economy and moves the country away from representative democracy towards popular diet.

To be enacted, it must be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum scheduled for September 4. Today, it is far from certain. Polls indicate that public sentiment to reject the draft constitution has increased since late March. In a May 13 survey by Chilean polling firm Cadem, 46% of respondents said they planned to vote against the project while 38% said they would vote for it. Sixteen percent did not respond or were undecided.

It gives freedom lovers and many center-left moderates hope that Chile might yet pull back from the national suicide that the document implies. If the “no” campaign fails, Chile’s highly successful economy of the past three decades could head for a level of mediocrity similar to that of its neighbors Bolivia and Argentina.

How Chile ended up on that ledge and about to jump might seem like a puzzle. According to Chile’s central bank, from 1989 to 2019, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 4.6%. In 2017, the poverty rate had fallen to 8.6% from almost 70% in 1990, according to government and United Nations data.

The economy fared poorly during Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s second (non-consecutive) term (2014-18). His successor was President Sebastián Piñera, who took office for the second time in 2018. In October 2019, terrorists attacked civilian targets. Santiago subways and churches across the country were set on fire. Street protests calling for change followed. Mr. Piñera eventually agreed to a nationwide plebiscite to determine whether the country needed a new constitution. It took place in October 2020.

Chile’s entrepreneurial class opposed a new constitution. But once the project was approved, the centre-right believed it could win a blocking minority – one-third plus one – of the representatives at the convention and thus curb radicalism.

They were wrong. Many extremist single-issue candidates running as independents gathered to contest the proportional representation ballot. Seventeen seats have been reserved for Aboriginals.

Social unrest still persisted in May 2021 during the election of representatives to the convention. The Covid-19 pandemic, with mandatory quarantines in many cities, has added to young people’s anger against the establishment that the hard left has been cultivating for years. With a lower risk of serious illness from the virus, they voted in greater numbers than those over 30.

When the smoke cleared, Chilean Communists and various other far-left ideologues had seized power within the convention. Some transactional socialists, mindful of their own interests, agreed to collaborate. With the two-thirds majority needed to get every article through, they took militant stances because they could.

A red flag is document length. The US Constitution has been successful, in large part, because it limits the power of government. Conversely, turning a constitution into a long list that confuses rights with rights, and promises to secure those rights by strengthening the state, is a ticket to poverty and tyranny.

Yet this is the path taken by the convention. According to the Santiago-based Center for Public Studies think tank, the Chilean draft has 49,637 words and 499 articles. This outshines – and not in a good way – some of the region’s leading authoritarian basket cases. Venezuela’s constitution is only 34,237 words long and 350 articles long. The one from Bolivia has 38,353 words and 411 articles. Chile’s draft even beats Ecuador, which has 49,523 words and 444 articles.

If the draft constitution becomes law, Chileans may no longer be able to use public money for private education. This would fulfill the Bolshevik goal of denying middle-class children access to non-governmental schools, which for many is only possible because their parents combine family savings with government bonds to pay school fees. schooling. Health care options will be reduced as well as water rights needed for mining and agriculture.

A world-class pension system, which allows workers to save in private accounts, is not protected. The new law establishes a state-run system. The document does not say what will happen to the savings already accumulated. But it does not explicitly defend ownership, and funds may not be hereditary.

The ambiguity throughout the project is probably no accident. It will allow the unicameral legislator to decide the fate of private savings and other individual freedoms. The same goes for what is a “fair” price in a land expropriation demanded by indigenous activists. Good luck running a country with such rules.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com

Journal editorial report: The best and worst of the week from Kim Strassel, Mary O’Grady and Dan Henninger. Images: Getty Images Composition: Mark Kelly

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