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Chile’s president reveals changes to senior team after constitution failure

Two days after Chileans emphatically rejected a new constitution, president Gabriel Boric has reshuffled his cabinet as he attempts to ride out a fresh period of uncertainty.

On Sunday, 62% of Chileans voted against a progressive new constitution which would have replaced the current document drafted under Gen Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in a historic plebiscite.

The result was a shattering blow to Boric, 36, and his youthful generation of leftist leaders. As the fallout commences, Chile is gripped by uncertainty and political wrangling as the country’s future comes under the microscope.

“This is one of the most difficult moments I have had to face politically,” the president said on Tuesday as he unveiled changes to his senior team.

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Six new ministers were appointed, including the presidency’s secretary-general, and ministers for energy, health, science and social development.

The changes maintain the female majority in Boric’s cabinet, but tip the balance towards the more moderate democratic socialist bloc – and away from the young generation of politicians and former students leaders from among whom Boric emerged to become Chile’s youngest ever president in December’s election.

Carolina Tohá, a respected former mayor of Santiago, has replaced interior minister Izkia Siches, who became the first woman to hold the post when Boric took power in March.

Tohá is a prominent figure in the centre-left Party for Democracy, one of the groups which formed the broadly centrist coalition to guide Chile through its delicate transition to democracy in the 1990s and 2000s.

“After the plebiscite result, it is clear that these young politicians need the help of the older generation to improve their relationship with the opposition,” said Miguel Ángel López, an academic at the University of Chile’s faculty of government.

“Boric still has the opportunity to implement changes, but they will not be framed in the radical way in which his agenda had originally described them.”

The 1980 constitution remains in force while leaders seek consensus on the route.

The coordinators of the successful “reject” campaign have called for a new constitutional process, but that would require a four-sevenths majority to be reached in both houses of Chile’s congress before a new convention can be elected to draft a new proposal.

Boric has reiterated his commitment to continuing efforts at constitutional reform, and invited the leaders of the country’s political parties to a meeting at La Moneda on Tuesday.

The proposed constitution, which now has no legal standing, was drawn up over a year of hard-fought negotiations by a gender-equal convention and presented in July.

It enshrined gender parity and reproductive rights, promised action on climate change, and recognised Chile’s Indigenous peoples constitutionally for the first time in the country’s history.

But these values are not guaranteed to be carried forward.

“None of these elements are guaranteed to be part of a new constitutional process,” said Tania Busch Venthur, a constitutional expert at Andrés Bello University in Santiago.

“The only thing we know for sure at the moment is that any changes will have to be made according to the rules set out by the 1980 constitution, and they will depend on the will of politicians.”

The campaign against the constitutional proposal was able to coalesce widespread support by casting doubt on its shakeup of the political and judicial systems, and criticised some of the rights it promised Chileans.

More than 13 million people turned out vote on Sunday as part of an exemplary electoral process, reinforcing the widespread dissatisfaction with the proposal drafted by the convention.

Yet in October 2020, 78% of Chileans voted in favour of a new constitution.

Although that enthusiasm appears to have evaporated, many Chileans remain in favour of a new constitution – just not the proposal they were offered in Sunday’s plebiscite.

It now falls upon Boric to guide Chile through a new chapter in a turbulent period for the country and reach an agreement that can win the support of society at large.

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