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Will Chile Set an Example for True Democracy?

19 Oct 2020 2:00 PM | Anonymous

On Oct. 25, Chileans will vote to reject or approve the start of creating a new constitution. The citizens of more countries should do the same. The country’s current Constitution, written under the authoritarian rule of the dictator Augusto Pinochet, has protected conservative interests and the military and has suppressed political dissent for 40 years.

Chile’s struggle with its authoritarian past is not unique. Countries with recent democracies like Myanmar, South Korea and Turkey have operated under authoritarian constitutions for years or even decades. My research indicates that more than two-thirds of political transitions to democracy since World War II — in more than 50 countries — occurred under constitutions written by the outgoing authoritarian regime. In some countries like Argentina that have flip-flopped between democracy and dictatorship multiple times, several democratic transitions have been guided by authoritarian-penned constitutions.

Persistent authoritarian influence under democracy is a recipe for inequality and democratic discontent. Democracies with authoritarian-era constitutions have weak political accountability and not enough citizen involvement in forming policies. And their political systems favor elites tied to the former regime rather than common citizens.

Inequality in Chile is at similar levels to the Pinochet era, while influence peddling by the wealthy — some of whom gained their fortunes through connections with Mr. Pinochet and insider privatizations — is pervasive.

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