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In the face of the 2020 Chilean Referendum: Understanding the Process 

by María José Villalón

Published: October, 2020

Submission: October, 2020


On November 15, 2019, a broad group of Congresspersons from a broad political spectrum came to the agreement of initiating a process for eventually replacing the Chilean current Constitution with a New Constitution, as a reaction to the social demonstrations that had taken place during the previous weeks. The process will start with an initial referendum taking place on October 25, 2020 (originally, the initial referendum was supposed to take place in April 2020, but it had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 health crisis).

In the initial referendum, citizens will vote on two points:

(i) whether citizens want a new constitution (approve or reject); and

(ii) in case the drafting of a new constitution is approved, how the constituent body should be composed. There are two alternatives:

  1. A new body of elected people chosen for that purpose (“Constitutional Convention”), or

  2. A mixed assembly composed in half by Congresspersons and the other half by elected people chosen for this single purpose (“Mixed Convention”).

If citizens choose to have a New Constitution, the candidates for the constituent body (either for the Constitutional or Mixed Convention) will be elected on April 11, 2021. Between May 13 and 15, 2021, the President of the Republic will summon the installation of the constituent body, which will have 15 days to do so. As of the date of installation, the constituent body will have approximately one year (9 months, extendable for other 3 months) to carry out its entrusted task of drafting the New Constitution.

The constituent body will draft a new text instead of amending the current Constitution, a procedure that is referred as “clean slate” (hoja en blanco). Then, the members of the constituent body will vote on each of the subjects matters to be included in the New Constitution. They must reach an agreement on 2/3 (66.6%of the votes) in order to be able to include the corresponding subject matter.

Once the New Constitution is agreed upon, a mandatory ratifying referendum will take place, where citizens will decide whether they approve the proposed text by simple majority. If approved, the President of the Republic will enact and publish the New Constitution, organically replacing the current one. Since the sole purpose of the constituent body is to draft the New Constitution, once its purpose has been fulfilled it will be dissolved, without affecting the competence of other State bodies and agencies.






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