Three decades after the peak of academic debates on the transition to democracy in Latin America, political science literature has turned to the study of democratic consolidation and the quality of democracy (Daucé & Peruzzotti, 2010). The cultural, political and institutional legacies of authoritarianism played an important role in explaining the emergence of delegative models of democracy in the region (O'Donnell, 1994). These models were capable of eroding liberal features, understood as respect for institutional procedures, checks and balances and the rule of law – mechanisms of horizontal accountability – in the name of a vertical, majoritarian authority. In this context, it would be mistaken to consider Chile immune to this threat, particularly in view of the increasing social disaffection with institutions. The country shows a “frozen” political structure: parties and politicians are roughly the same as in the pre-1973 military coup period. But political apathy and electoral abstention have grown exponentially, leading to a party system increasingly detached from its social roots and prone to anti-political, populist temptations.
The problem facing Chilean democracy today is not, however, an excess of majoritarianism to the detriment of institutions, but its opposite: the maintenance of dictatorship-tailored institutional dykes that make the political system immune to the will of the majority in certain areas. The 1980 Constitution is an obstacle to the consolidation and deepening of democracy in Chile and the current crisis of representation is deeply linked to its unresolved constitutional problem. In what follows, I first describe the main elements of the crisis of legitimacy in Chile as it relates to the democratic deficits caused by the 1980 Constitution. I argue that, by making the political process irrelevant, the constitution is a key factor in the disaffection towards institutions, politics and politicians. The second section summarizes and evaluates the proposal for constitutional change presented in 2015 by President Michelle Bachelet. The third section discusses the revolutionary project of the military dictatorship and the reformist ways of the transition, with a focus on the shortcomings of the post-transitional “democracy of agreements”. Finally, the dilemmas of legal break versus continuity in constitutional change are addressed.
Como citar: Heiss, C. (2017). Legitimacy crisis and the constitutional problem in Chile: A legacy of authoritarianism. Constellations; 24; 470-479.