Eduardo Frei’s Support for Chile’s New Constitution: A Closer Look

In a surprising turn of events, former Chilean President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, a prominent member of the center-left Christian Democratic Party, has announced his support for the country’s proposed new Constitution.

This decision places him at odds with his own party, which rejected the text in an internal assembly. As one of the key figures in the ex-Concertación coalition, Frei’s stance sets him apart from his fellow former presidents, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet, who have expressed their opposition to the proposal.

Background

Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, an 81-year-old civil engineer, served as the President of Chile from 1994 to 2000. As a member of the center-left coalition, he played a significant role in the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy during the 1990s.

Frei’s decision to support the new Constitution marks a departure from his fellow ex-presidents and highlights the complex dynamics within Chilean politics. While his stance may surprise some, Frei’s rationale for backing the proposed text deserves closer examination.

Rationale for Support

In a statement released on Wednesday, Frei acknowledged the lack of consensus surrounding the proposed Constitution, describing it as a product of temporary majority rule rather than broad agreement.

Despite this, he argued that it is crucial to consider the overall balance of the text, weighing its positive and negative aspects. Frei emphasized that his support for the new Constitution is not an endorsement of the far-right or their ideas. Instead, he believes that closing this chapter and restoring stability to Chile is essential. For Frei, avoiding the repetition of past mistakes is of utmost importance.

A Personal Conviction

Frei, who is aware that his decision may draw criticism, asserts that his stance is guided by personal conviction rather than political or electoral calculations. At 81 years of age, he remains resolute in his belief that supporting the proposed Constitution is in the best interest of the country.

Frei’s vision for Chile is driven by his desire to address the pressing challenges facing the nation, such as stagnant economic growth, rising crime rates, inadequate pensions, high cost of living, and limited access to quality healthcare, education, and housing.

The Need for Closure

Frei argues that Chile must move forward and address the grave issues that have hindered its development. If the current constitutional reform process is not concluded, there is a risk of perpetuating a cycle of conventions and councils, which would be detrimental to the country.

Frei’s plea for closure resonates with those who believe that Chile must focus on economic growth, job creation, border security, and combating crime and drug trafficking. He believes that the time for a new Constitution is now, and failing to act would be detrimental to the country’s future.

Disagreements and Concerns

While Frei supports the new Constitution, he acknowledges that there are provisions within the text that represent a step backward from the current legislation. He hopes that these provisions will be corrected in the future when the conditions allow for it.

Specifically, Frei calls on progressive forces to preserve the three grounds for abortion, as this is a hard-won right for women that must be defended.

The change in wording from “the law protects the life of the unborn” to “the law protects the life of those who are about to be born” has raised concerns among the center-left, as it may potentially conflict with the existing law allowing abortion in cases of rape, fetal inviability, and maternal life at risk.

Support and Criticism

Frei’s announcement has garnered both support and criticism from across the political spectrum. Evelyn Matthei, a leading figure in the traditional right-wing, expressed her appreciation for Frei’s conviction and shared concern about the potential perpetuation of the constitutional debate.

Similarly, Rodrigo Galilea, a senator from the traditional right-wing party, Renovación Nacional, applauded Frei’s stance, highlighting the positive aspects of the proposed Constitution. However, Frei’s decision has also faced criticism, with members of his own party and others questioning the wisdom of supporting a text that contains regressive elements.

The Second Attempt

Chile is currently in its second attempt to change its Constitution. The first attempt, in September 2022, proposed a convention with a left-leaning majority, but was rejected by 62% of the population in a referendum.

In contrast, the current proposal, which will be plebiscited in December, has the support of right-wing councilors who hold the majority in the Constitutional Council. This shift in dynamics has proven divisive, with the left viewing the text as conservative and identity-driven, while the right sees it as a path forward.

Public Opinion and Challenges

Recent opinion polls indicate that the proposed Constitution is likely to face significant opposition. A majority of Chileans, according to the Activa’s Pulso Ciudadano poll, are predicted to reject the new text.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) reveals that 53% of Chileans have not yet decided how to vote in the upcoming referendum, indicating a lack of enthusiasm and engagement with the process. These challenges highlight the uphill battle faced by proponents of the new Constitution.

Conclusion

Eduardo Frei’s decision to support Chile’s new Constitution has sparked intense debate and highlighted the complexities of the ongoing constitutional reform process. While his stance may not align with the views of his party or his fellow ex-presidents, Frei’s conviction and belief in the need for closure and stability in Chile drive his support for the proposed text.

As the country approaches the plebiscite in December, the outcome remains uncertain, with public opinion divided and challenges surrounding the lack of interest and engagement with the process. The future of Chile’s constitutional reform will ultimately be decided by the will of the people.