An overwhelming majority of Chileans quietly but very clearly voted to reject a draft constitution, which it feared would lock the country into a radical socialist mould.
In Chile, the Left has fallen victim to its love of identity politics. Dizzied by the country's social upheavals and calls for change since 2019, it forgot that at the end of the day, Chile is the home of moderation.
The rejection Sunday by most voters of a proposed, new constitutional text comes in spite of the fact that 80% of Chileans still want to overhaul the constitution bequeathed by the country's conservative, military regime of the 1970s.
The vast majority of Chileans have in recent years come to a shared conclusion, that Chile's socio-economic advances and undoubted prosperity must be democratized and fairly shared out among its territories and socio-economic classes.
For the Chilean Left, led by the young President Gabriel Boric, this was the biggest window of opportunity in its history. It had never had such a clear mandate for creating a transformative project based on a new constitution, and this in addition to the symbolic weight of putting an end to the constitution of the late dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
But not for the first time in Latin American history, the Left stretched its plans a little far, and tripped over its dogmatism. The 80% of votes cast in the first referendum (calling for a constitutional overhaul) turned the radicals' heads to the point where the demands of the 2019 protests, for better healthcare and schools, morphed into the "plurinational" state, self-rule for territories, the removal of the Senate and meddling in the judiciary.
Nothing to celebrate
The Left suddenly turned its constitutional proposals into a program of government, which swiftly eroded the grand majority they had enjoyed just months before.
A sigh of relief.
On Sunday night, there were few celebrations in Chile. The crushing victory of the No vote was silent. Chileans did not embrace but breathed a sigh of relief. Few car horns could be heard in the big cities, nor were there incidents in Santiago.
What should have been a unifying process and the finding of a "commonwealth" for the nation, had become a trench war of divided opinions marked by acute animosity.
Wittingly or not, the register of the Left's communications was one of "holier-than-thou." It worked with segments of the youth but was ultimately counterproductive, as it forgot to listen to others — the very many of them — and forced all those with differing views to keep quiet. And they did, leaving the Constitutional Convention and the Boric government cocooned in a microclimate of complacency and dogmatism.
Votes On All Sides
President Gabriel Boric, who proposed the new progressist constitution for referendum.
The No vote won as many votes as all votes cast for the 2021 presidential elections. It garnered more votes than all those cast in the first plebiscite (of October 2020). This may be the electoral option that has won itself most votes in history. The silent majority held no meetings nor rallies. It campaigned not on the streets, but at home. Nobody shouted, as millions preferred to state their views on Whatsapp.
The result also conveys a firm rejection of the political violence that has become a residual legacy of the 2019 protests. It will give socialists inside the Broad Front an opportunity to definitively distance themselves from such violence and understand that their chances of government hinge on forging an inclusive block that encompasses the political Center.
Traditional parties of the Center-Left (the former Concertación) were relieved on Sunday, after so many months of contempt shown for their efforts of the past 30 years. It seemed as if the country had regained the spirit of emblematic figures of the restored democracy like Patricio Aylwin and Ricardo Lagos.
The military regime did that.
Alongside its adversaries of recent decades, the conservatives, the establishment Left came out on Sunday night to thank voters for rejecting the constitutional draft. For the umpteenth time, Chile has shown it is a moderate country. It wants changes, but not dramatic ones. It wants a better future, but without letting a sector of society perpetuate a one-time ideological victory through a constitution. The military regime did that.
The silent majority has applied the balm of humility to the Left and its identity politics, and gently asked it to grow up.