Chile’s constitutional referendum: Will the participatory process end in rejection?
Constitutional reform in Chile has been in the works for at least nine years and is now approaching a critical moment. The current process grew out of a protest movement (Estallido Social) in 2019. The demand for constitutional change was then given concrete support in a referendum in 2020, where the vast majority of those who voted supported drafting a new constitution. The resulting process, led by a popularly elected and commendably diverse group of drafters, has now come to a close. Surprisingly, though, despite widespread popular participation in the process, polls indicate that the draft is likely to be rejected in the referendum scheduled for 4 September. (However, it should be noted that since voting in the referendum is compulsory, prediction on the basis of the polls is difficult.) In a comparative context, a rejection of the draft would be a remarkably rare event. My study with Zach Elkins, which analyzed 644 referendums between 1789 and 2016, found that referendums to ratify new constitutions passed 94% of the time – often with very high levels of support. Over the last half century in particular, ratification via referendum has become increasingly popular. At the same time, so few constitutions have been rejected by voters that it perhaps appears to be an almost costless choice for politicians to submit their work to a referendum. The likely outcome on 4 September would place Chile in very rare company indeed. Despite overwhelming support for initiating a constitution-making process and broad participation in the drafting process itself, there are doubts about the outcome. Sensationalized media coverage of the more radical proposals suggested at early stages may have undercut public trust in the drafters and the text. Now, at an elite political and legal level, a number of criticisms have been made regarding the content of the proposed constitution, including the potential weakening or fragmentation of the party system and the way that the new balance of powers could lead to gridlock. Notwithstanding its phenomenal length, the text also leaves many matters to be decided by ordinary legislation at some point in the future. Among the general public, those who say they will vote against ratification highlight healthcare, education, pensions, and the plurinationality of the state among their top concerns. In an international-comparative context, a rejection of the draft constitution in Chile would be a very rare event. In the Chilean context, one might wonder if the failure of two successive attempts at constitutional change would dampen enthusiasm for yet another constituent process. Even so, the President has argued that if this process fails, a new one should start right away. Surprisingly – given that the constitution-making process has been ongoing for the better part of nine years already, this position is supported by 35% of Chileans. The level of support for change manifested in 2019 and 2020 apparently remains high. If Chile can push forward into a successful third attempt at reform, it would be almost as remarkable as a rejection in the referendum, and could provide some insight for would-be constitutional reformers in other countries. Chile’s constitutional moment may last much longer than anyone expected.
Democracy in the Western Balkans: A Long and Winding “European Path”
After the longest period of stasis in its history, the European Union is expanding. Last month, Ukraine and Moldova were swiftly granted candidate status. Bulgaria, an EU member state, voted to lift its veto on North Macedonia’s and Albania’s membership bids, and North Macedonia in turn committed to new legal measures recognizing Bulgarian minority rights, clearing the path for the start of negotiations. Stalled integration of the Western Balkans and the latest EU Summit aftermath The accelerated pace with which Ukraine and Moldova gained candidate status left the Western Balkans, long stuck in the EU waiting room, feeling sidelined and frustrated. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama criticized EU leaders, referring to the stalled accession process as a “scary show of impotence.” The discontent is nothing new, but Rama’s undiplomatic language speaks volumes of the little patience left in the Balkans. It is hardly surprising. In order to get this far, North Macedonia had to resolve 27 years of disputes with Greece and change its name. Even then, France and Bulgaria continued to put up roadblocks. This had domino effects, stalling accession for Albania as well, since its application is twinned with that of North Macedonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is still stuck with potential candidate status, despite having gone through one of the most brutal wars in Europe and formerly being considered to have stronger prospects of joining the EU than Ukraine. Ironically, Kosovo, the country that usually displays the most pro-EU membership enthusiasm, stands last in line due to not being recognized by five EU member states and by Serbia. Kosovo's isolation within Europe has been exacerbated by the fact it is the only country within the Western Balkans not to have been granted visa liberalization by the EU, despite it meeting the required benchmarks back in 2018. It’s not just leaders who are frustrated. In North Macedonia, former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who was initially credited with settling the country’s dispute with Greece and advancing its Euro-Atlantic prospects, was forced to step down in 2021 after voter frustrations with the stalled accession process led to a poor local electoral performance. Most recently, in July 2022, thousands of North Macedonians protested against the EU-led deal to settle the country’s dispute with Bulgaria. Although this painful concession opened way for the start of accession talks, more progress will be required to prove the Eurosceptics wrong. In neighboring Kosovo, the EU’s broken promises have led to a loss of its credibility and decreased the normative power of the EU accession perspective. The fact that Kosovars are still unable to travel to the EU without a visa, despite having fulfilled more than twice as many criteria as many other countries, demonstrates how politicization, disunity and member-state interests have undermined the EU’s merit-based processes and that these processes are failing to reward reform. The divergent accession standards applied to several Western Balkans countries have led to criticisms of EU double standards, and claims about the revival of historical prejudice and condescension. Implications for democracy in the region The stalled EU integration and the bloc’s broken promises threaten democracy in the Western Balkans. There are three reasons for this. First, the process has helped fuel Euroscepticism, which has both undermined the efforts of the region’s progressive camp and strengthened the hands of its populists. Second, the EU has been criticized for unintentionally promoting “stabilitocracies” and for not taking a stronger position against autocratic tendencies. One such example is in Serbia, where the EU has tolerated the democratic backsliding that has taken place under the administration of Aleksandar Vučić. Vučić might be the strongman who can deliver difficult concessions, but failing to call out his autocratic tendencies serves to weaken the democratic standards that the EU imposes on prospective member states and to frustrate those prospective member states, such as Kosovo and North Macedonia, who are implementing democratic reforms but are not being rewarded for doing so. Third, the stalled EU integration process may encourage countries in the Western Balkans to seek out alternative partners, such as Russia, Turkey and China, whose authoritarian influence is likely to weaken their democracies. Ties, in some cases close ties, with these countries already exist. The Kremlin considers the region to be in its strategic interest, and it has maintained close relationships with Serbia and BiH’s Republika Srpska, while opposing NATO membership for Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro, and threatening Montenegro with long-range missiles. Erdogan has also signed free-trade agreements with all countries in the region, and Kosovo and Albania have been criticised for the unlawful deportation of ‘Gulenists’ to Turkey. China has provided tech and military exports to the region, particularly leaning toward Serbia due to the similarities between the cases of Taiwan and Kosovo. Chinese investments in Serbia, BiH and Montenegro have raised concerns related to transparency, security, public health, and environment. Democracy in the region had already been buffeted during the COVID-19 pandemic - amid cases of poor transparency in public procurement of medical supplies, government measures curtailing media freedoms, and limits on civil society - and was also challenged by a lack of solidarity in the EU response, where Turkey and China seized the opportunity to gain ground offering their support. The cooperation with autocratic powers might lead to other similar actions that threaten European standards and challenge the region’s contractual obligations with the EU. The Euroscepticism, establishment of stabilitocracies and the influence of autocratic powers in the region contribute to an increased isolation from democratic principles in the region. A rejuvenated EU approach Despite frustrations with its integration process, most countries in the Western Balkans still wish to join the EU. The overall persistence of pro-European attitudes, the delivered reforms, and the threats coming from external actors such as Russia, Turkey and China, are reasons enough to inspire a rejuvenated EU approach towards the Western Balkans. Rewarding democratic leadership, consistently applying the EU’s democratic standards and taking a stand on democratic erosion should be guiding principles if confidence in the integration process is to be achieved. The commencement of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia should be made a catalyst for further action, including Kosovo’s visa liberalization and clear guidelines for Kosovo’s and BiH’s paths to the candidate status. Making use of this momentum will be critical to fortifying democracy in the Western Balkans region and would drive the EU’s transformation into a more forthcoming and inclusive family.
Urnas y descontento en América Latina
El pasado 19 de junio casi 20 millones de colombianas y colombianos acudieron a las urnas para votar un cambio. Esto era claro, pues ninguno de los dos candidatos que pasaron a la segunda vuelta pertenecía a los partidos tradicionales del país. Por un lado, Gustavo Petro, de Colombia Humana, es un líder de izquierda que en su juventud militó en la guerrilla M-19; por otro, Rodolfo Hernández, de la Liga Anticorrupción, es un ingeniero civil y empresario sin militancia política. La tradicional centro derecha colombiana quedó relegada, y la ciudadanía eligió por primera vez a un candidato de izquierda como presidente (Petro, con 50.44% de los votos). Este deseo de cambio no debe sorprendernos. Colombia es uno de los países más desiguales de la región, solo detrás de Brasil y Guatemala, con un coeficiente de Gini de 0.523, y una alta tasa de pobreza monetaria (39.3% de la población). Ante este contexto, en 2019 el presidente Iván Duque anunció un paquete económico con reformas laborales y de pensiones, que desencadenó fuertes movilizaciones. Primero encabezadas por sindicatos inconformes, las protestas pronto evolucionaron a un movimiento de insatisfacción profunda con participación de diversos sectores del país. Por si fuera poco, la pandemia de Covid-19 agregó a esto devastadoras consecuencias de salud y socio-económicas. El resultado electoral descrito anteriormente refleja este descontento. Colombia no es la excepción. Entre 2018 y 2022 casi 300 millones de latinoamericanos han acudido a las urnas para elegir un nuevo o nueva presidente. En 2018 se acudió a las urnas en seis países (Brasil, Colombia, Costa Rica, México, Paraguay y Venezuela); en 2019 en seis más (Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panamá y Uruguay); en 2020 se repitió la elección en Bolivia; en 2021 se votó en cinco naciones Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua y Perú. En 2022 se han celebrado, a la fecha elecciones en Costa Rica y Colombia. En casi todas, la ciudadanía ha buscado un cambio: el 78.94% de las elecciones libres de la región ha traído la derrota del oficialismo (Tabla y mapa a continuación). Tabla 1. América Latina, elecciones presidenciales y cambio de partido en el gobierno, 2018-2022 Mapa 1. América Latina, elecciones presidenciales y cambio de partido en el gobierno, 2018-2022 Esto tampoco debe sorprendernos. América Latina tiene elevados niveles de pobreza. En 2019, el 30,8% de la población se colocaba debajo de la línea de pobreza y 11,5% vivía en pobreza extrema y se mantiene como la región más desigual del mundo. La región es también la más violenta del mundo. El Informe Regional de Desarrollo Humano 2021 del Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD) destaca que mientras la región apenas alberga a 9 % de la población mundial, registra el 34% del total de muertes violentas. A esto se suman cientos de escándalos de corrupción como los ‘Cuadernos de Coimas’ en Argentina, el ‘Lava Jato’ en Brasil, ‘La Línea’ en Guatemala y las Casas ‘Blanca’ y ‘Gris’ en México, entre otros. Ante este panorama, no causa asombro la alta tasa de derrota del oficialismo en el continente. El reto, sin embargo, no sólo consiste en votar alternativas, sino en que estas alternativas cumplan con las expectativas expresadas en las urnas. Estos nuevos gobiernos deben entregar resultados en educación, medio ambiente, seguridad social, empleo, pobreza y seguridad pública -y de preferencia hacerlo rápidamente-. Esto es relevante para Colombia y los nuevos gobiernos en toda la región, pero también para la Constituyente Chilena, donde están puestos los ojos de toda la región. De lo contrario, el descontento se profundizará, pudiendo traer opciones autoritarias que, con diagnósticos y propuestas sencillas, desde el poder desmantelen el edificio democrático. Ejemplos ya existen. La democracia que tanto nos costó lograr está en juego y una forma de salvarla es escuchar y cumplirle al electorado. En Colombia, el presidente electo tiene retos mayúsculos, desde un país dividido, altos índices de violencia, pobreza, desigualdad y las secuelas de la pandemia. Ante esto, Petro tiene clara la necesidad de emprender reformas y sabe que estas le costaron al actual presidente Iván Duque una sublevación social. Sin embargo, esto también parece ser muy claro para Petro: “si yo fallo, vienen las tinieblas que arrasarán con todo; yo no puedo fallar”. Y para estas reformas necesarias, en Colombia y la región, recordemos que la democracia no es un obstáculo, sino nuestra aliada fundamental.  Estimación del autor a partir de participación electoral por país. En casos de elecciones con segunda vuelta, se tomó el dato de la ronda con participación más alta.