SANTIAGO – President Michelle Bachelet, who leaves office in five days, sent a bill to Congress on Tuesday proposing a new constitution to replace the one imposed on Chile in 1980 by dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
“I’ve said it before, we will continue to govern until the last day, so this should not surprise anyone,” the president said at an event in La Moneda palace, referring to criticism, including from within the governing center-left coalition, of the initiative.
Bachelet, who will hand over the presidency on Sunday to conservative billionaire Sebastian Piñera, said the new constitution “is the fruit of the reflection we have done as a community,” adding that “it isn’t about starting from zero, our proposal respects our constitutional tradition.”
The proposal “recognizes indigenous peoples as a fundamental part” of Chilean society, granting them the right to be represented in Congress and recognizing their cultural and language rights, Bachelet said.
The new constitution includes a “citizens’ initiative law” that will send bills proposed by civil society to Congress when they are backed by at least 5 percent of voters, the president said.
The new constitution would also eliminate the large quorum rules needed to pass certain laws by proposing that bills be passed with a “simple and absolute” majority, with the exception of constitutional changes, which would require three-fifths of lawmakers’ votes.
In addition, congressional minorities would no longer have the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court to block already approved laws.
Drafting a new constitution was one of Bachelet’s commitments for her second administration.
In January 2017, contributions from civil society helped shape the new charter, which includes ideas discussed at more than 8,000 local assemblies in which some 204,000 people took part.
The bill will be debated by the new Congress, which was elected in November 2017 and will begin its sessions on March 11.
Congress, in which no party has a legislative majority, will decide how to approve the constitution, possibly involving a referendum or a constitutional assembly.