A Constitutional Convention in Chile

Is this familiar?


The first depicts the convention where the US constitution was drafted in 1787. The second Australia’s in 1897-1898. Despite acknowledging it as a failure of reading and imagination, I cannot help but imagine constitutional conventions as historical events. For me, the act of deciding the fundamental social contract is indelibly implicated with white men in elaborate wigs and collars.

All the more interesting then that on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted to draft a new constitution. The current constitution dates from Pinochet’s dictatorship and is blamed, in part, for the decades of inequality which set off last year’s massive protests, where as many as one million people took to the streets. This piece by the NYT provides a good overview, including this quote that stuck with me:

“We are the generation for whom the joy never came,” said one of them, Nicole Martínez, 26. Her words were a bitter twist on “joy is coming,” the slogan from the campaign that ended military rule.

Voters also chose for the new constitution to be drafted by a popularly elected constitutional convention. The alternative would have seen some members of congress automatically included.


Elections will now be held for that body, which must have gender parity. This raises lots of interesting questions, like how the body will be elected, the role existing political parties will have in selecting candidates, and how legal experts will be involved. These are all difficult questions, but vitally important for any democratic society to puzzle through. This article is one of the few in English which goes into some of this detail, if you are interested.

At a time when the assaults on democracy and justice can seem constant, Chile’s protests and this referendum are a source of hope. Viva Chile.