Jaime Bassa Vice-president of the Constitutional Convention
How do you explain the success of the far-right candidate, José Antonio Kast, who won the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, two years after the Chilean social explosion?
Jaime Bassa We had not seen, since the presidential election of 1989, an extreme right candidate able to win or, at least, we had had a similar experience in 1999 during the second round between Ricardo Lagos and Joaquin Lavin. But it seems to me that the Kast option represents a much more extreme radical right than Lavin’s twenty years ago. It is therefore a very specific scenario, when we are in the midst of the constitutional process. It is possible that this process of change born of the revolt, of the social crisis, has opened up a space of uncertainty exploited and manipulated by the extreme right. This has disseminated a discourse of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of difference, fear of diversity, to gain political benefit.
If this current electoral process were to end with the victory of the opponents of a new Constitution, who had obtained only 20% of the votes in the referendum of October 25, 2020, what would happen to the Constitutional Convention, to its work? , of its political legitimacy?
Jaime Bassa This Chilean constituent process has a characteristic that no other process of this nature has had elsewhere in the world: not only did it not have the support of the government, but the latter even opposed it with open hostility. So, of course, the four months that have passed since the installation of this assembly have been very difficult. This constituent power has itself cleared a space between the existing powers, against the will of the government. If a candidate more to the right than the current government were to win, then this constituent process could certainly be hampered in one way or another. Everything will depend on citizen support for the Constitutional Convention, which derives its legitimacy from the social revolt and the crushing triumph of yes to a new fundamental text in October 2020. But I tend to think that this constituent process is solid enough to continue its path, regardless of the face of the next executive.
No serious response to the social demands expressed in 2019 has been outlined. Do you think that Chile could experience, in the near future, a new popular revolt?
Jaime Bassa The Constitutional Convention allowed the political expression of a social diversity, a representation of the popular will breaking with the traditional forms of representative democracy, which is lacking in other institutions. It is a more active form of social and citizen participation, which could generate problems, friction, frustrations, but also a lot of hope because it offered the possibility of thinking about an alternative horizon, of taking into consideration structurally marginalized sectors of society. Overcoming this social crisis involves providing responses to the crisis of legitimacy and trust in the institutions of popular representation. If we fail, we don’t have an easy alternative plan. The social revolt, then the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighted the state’s profound inability to meet the needs of the people. The Chileans are looking for an alternative, a new framework that would allow these social demands to be taken care of. This is the challenge we must take up. R. M.