How to write a new constitution for a divided and unequal Chile

Demonstrator are seen during clashes with riot police near the former Chilean National Congress where Constituent Assembly holds its first session, in Santiago, on July 4, 2021.

Elisa Loncón, a Chilean linguist, grew up in a "ruka," a traditional wood and straw hut where the Indigenous Mapuche people live in rural areas of south-central Chile. She went to school in the nearest city, where she was the only Indigenous child in her class and had to endure daily discrimination. But giving up the opportunity for education was not an option: her mother dropped out of school in the third grade, tired of walking long hours barefoot to reach her classroom, while her father didn't learn to read until he was 17. They wanted better for her.

Today, Loncón, 58, has a master's degree and two PhDs. She is also one of the 155 members of the country´s new constituent assembly charged with drafting the new bill of rights.
    After more than a year of social turmoil and popular discontent, Chile is entering a new stage. In October 2019, a metro fare increase sparked massive protests and riots along the country, forcing conservative President Sebastián Piñera to agree to a referendum on rewriting the constitution inherited from General Augusto Pinochet´s bloody dictatorship. As a result, last October, over 78% of Chilean voters approved the constitutional change and last month, they cast their ballots again to pick the members for a constituent assembly.
      This Sunday, this assembly has its first official session, kicking off a process that should last up to a year and produce a text that will be ratified through a new plebiscite. This is historic not only because it symbolically puts an end to the legacy of Chile's authoritarian regime. It is also a rare opportunity for any country to establish new guidelines for the 21st century.
      Chile's constitutional assembly is expected to try to limit the privileges of an elite with a dominant hold on political power, that still acts as an oligarchy. At the center of the constitutional debate will be whether to eliminate an existing section that regulates the power of the State to develop entrepreneurial activities -- which most Chileans believe would lead to new social welfare policies. Most assembly members also aim to promote higher civic participation and better protection of the environment in the new constitution.
      Demonstrators and elected Constituents march towards the Chilean National Congress where the Constituent Assembly would be inaugurated in Santiago, on July 4, 2021.

      Unprecedented diversity and gender parity

        Since it was elected, Chile´s constitutional assembly has drawn attention across Latin America both for its political, racial, and cultural diversity -- and for the uncertainty surrounding it. Conservatives worry it won't be able to generate a balanced bill of rights in a country where the voice of those who had felt marginalized has grown louder.
        The composition of the assembly is undoubtedly a game-changer for politics in Chile, with 155 members who on balance reflects Chileans´ strong rejection of the established political class: The center-left and right-wing coalitions that have shared power since the return to democracy in 1990 both took a serious blow, obtaining only 16% and 24% of the seats respectively. Independents and newcomers from left-wing political parties and social movements in contrast have had their hour of glory, gathering 60% of the votes.
        "There is a lot of uncertainty around the process because you have a group of people who are not professional politicians, are somewhat unexperienced and unpredictable. It's hard to know to what extent they´re willing to compromise", says Oliver Stuenkel, Professor of International Relations at Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (FVG) in Sao Paulo and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "But I couldn't think of a more democratic and inclusive way of doing it," he adds.