On May 7, 2023, Chile witnessed the right-wing Republican party make impressive gains in an election to set up a new constitutional assembly with the task of drafting a new constitution. In this election, the Republican Party was victorious in 22 out of 51 seats. Other right-wing parties picked up an additional 11 seats.
This is an election that will be a part of the constitutional assembly that is tasked with creating a new constitution to replace the one the military government of General Augusto Pinochet established.
The previous assembly drafted a new constitution that voters rejected in a referendum in 2022. This assembly was largely composed of progressive figures who wanted to fundamentally alter Chile’s constitutional order and economic system. Some of the reforms proposed in this constitution included the replacement of the Senate with a Chamber of Regions and the declaration of Chile as a “plurinational state” that upholds the land and mineral rights of Chile’s indigenous population.
For Chilean voters, such reforms were a bridge too far which prompted them to resoundingly reject the constitution by a vote of 62% to 38%.
This constitution’s rejection at the polls propelled the May 7 election to set up a new assembly. At stake in this election, were 50 seats in addition to a seat designated for a representative of Chile’s indigenous groups.
José Antonio Kast, the brother of former Central Bank President Miguel Kast and a former presidential candidate in the 2021 elections in Chile, saw his Republican Party pick win 22 seats. A more mainstream conservative coalition Chile Seguro (Safe Chile) coalition will have 11 representatives after obtaining 21% of votes. Kast has been a vocal opponent of changing the Chilean constitution.
The left-wing Unidad para Chile (Unity for Chile) coalition picked up 17 seats, falling short of the 21 it must have to veto proposals. The desire for constitutional reform in Chile came about in 2019 after major protests swept across Chile.
In June, the assembly will begin its efforts to hammer out a new constitution. This is a five-month process that will use a blueprint experts have crafted. Once this text is finalized, it will be put before the voters in a referendum that is slated for December.
While Chile has drifted leftwards since its return to democracy in 1990, it has still maintained a relatively centrist economic foundation that respects property rights and free trade. This has allowed Chile to emerge as Latin America’s most economically prosperous country.
Given the US’s controversial history with Chile, as evidenced by the CIA’s alleged backing of the military coup against Salvador Allende, the US will have a vested interested in seeing how things will unfold in Chile. In fact, countries like China will also be looking with interest at what goes down in Chile. Among Latin American countries, Chile is one of the most dependent on Chinese trade. 38.6% of Chile’s exports end up in China, while China is Chile’s top supplier of goods at 29.8%. All things considered, China will want to make sure that it’s economic intercourse with Chile is not severely disrupted by radical political changes.
Should Chile avoid a radical rewrite of its constitution, it will continue being Latin America’s most attractive business option for foreign investors and corporations. Nevertheless, Chile will continue to be another theater of the broader geoeconomic competition between the US and China, where both countries are vying to consolidate their economic hold in Latin America.
Regardless of what type of government occupies Chile, China and the US will continue to jockey for influence in the Southern Cone country.