Cristián Stewart, director of Idea País: "Defending the status quo has been the vice that has prevented the right wing from offering timely changes".
From a distant sidewalk, the Christian-social lawyer lived through the social explosion. Not so the constituent process, and the exit plebiscite, where the lawyer and former regional coordinator of Education and TECHO volunteers has his own definitions: critical and proactive with the culture of cancellation, he recognizes the progress of the draft of the Magna Carta but warns that as it is, it can deepen even more the problems that led Chile to want to rewrite it.
By the third week of October 2019, Cristián Stewart (34) had already been at the London School of Economics (LSE) for a year and a half doing the first of what - he did not yet know - would be two master's degrees.
To this day, say those close to them, they maintain a fluid relationship that they consolidated in October 2018 after the social outburst: Velasco, as dean, and Stewart as President of the 'Chilean Society", which, according to some former students of the University, functions as an Alumni Center for Chileans who operate from the house of studies.
Three semesters of studies had already passed when Chilean students in London heard about the first days of the social outbreak. Cristián Stewart, current Executive Director of Idea País, then met with several of the Chileans who were studying in England.
The meetings of Chileans in London in which he participated included Diego Vela (RD), former president of the FEUC (NAU) and with whom he competed in the first ballot since 1968 that did not include the Trade Union Movement in a second round.
"We were mostly anxious. We didn't really understand the dynamics that were taking place in Chile" says Stewart, who arrived in Chile in March 2022, but who had already been administering remotely for almost a year IdeaPaís: a study center that is defined in Christian Socialism founded in 2010 by Claudio Alvarado -current executive director of IES-, Cristián Benavente, and the current deputy of RN, Diego Schalper.
- Did Chileans in London finally understand what the dynamics were in Chile during the plebiscite?
- We discussed quite a lot about the diagnosis because the protests were multi-causal. There were simultaneous demands that also had no spokespersons.
- But of the multiple causes, it was possible to learn that there were several that took up the agenda.
- Of course, but the process also crossed a lot with how difficult it was to distinguish between the peaceful demonstration of October 25 (the largest March in Chile), with the riots that occurred since October 18 and continued to occur on Fridays thereafter.
- So there was more than one difference between the Chileans who were in London...
- There were some who thought rather similarly to Fernando Atria, who systematized this position to call the "October revolt a "necessary fact": that it was necessary for this to happen in order to have a discussion about profound change in Chile.
- And you differ from that thinking.
- There are many cases in the world that confirm that violence is not necessary to generate relevant changes. I am thinking of Martin Luther King, Gandhi; in the end, there are many examples even in Chile that could allow changes to be made. The same process of the return to democracy is one of them, with its difficulties and difficulties. An important part of my personal diagnosis is that there was a great desire for change and that was one of the first consensuses we reached while talking.
- But "the necessary event" for Fernando Atria is not the violence itself, it is the whole process with what this "revolt" implied, whether there was violence or not. How did Chile reach a Peace Agreement without a war? What could be the necessary event instead of the one that occurred?
- It is difficult to make political fiction in this, even more so because in order to project scenarios it is necessary to think how to separate the current facts from possible ruptures that could have occurred without any of them necessarily saying the other. But if Gabriel Boric won the Presidency of the Republic and proposed a new Constitution, we could also be in a constituent process, discussing in terms perhaps not so different. We would have been spared the discussion on the amnesty to the prisoners of the revolt and other issues that tainted the basic discussion. But I go back, with the spirit of change that existed, perhaps we would not necessarily have stopped at a new Constitution.
- Because, of course, a text on paper was not going to solve the structural problem of the desire for change. Where do you think this impetus came from? How was this transforming force satiated?
It is evident that it comes from the problems of unequal treatment that are installed in Chile. That is why it was the political class that necessarily had to respond to the significant changes in social matters.
- And did that slow the momentum for change? Was the Convention the expected response to the problems of unequal treatment?
I believe that it lost the opportunity to be the answer when it insisted on starting from scratch. Some convention members became obsessed with turning their theories into the official doctrine, and that partly clouds a historical moment that we gave ourselves as a country and that I think we have to keep pushing, but ensuring certain things that are currently out of the discussion, such as stability, certainty and gradualness. It is a bit like comparing the old and the new 40-hour project, which today is very different from the previous one.
Separate the text from its context
Opinion polls, columns, interviews, and a series of analyses have emerged regarding how a Constitutional Convention that started with a vote of 80% approval, marked by one vote, today has Chile practically divided into 3: I approve, I reject and I do not know or do not answer, where the first option, according to the last polls we have seen, could not exceed 40%.
With 16 days to go until the Constitutional Plebiscite, the Pulso Ciudadano survey (Activa Research) projected with a sampling error of +/- 2.1% that 45.8% of the population would vote rejection, 32.9% would approve, 15.7% remained undecided, 2.5% would vote null/white and 3.1% would not vote.
- Were there particular events that caused the Convention to lose credibility in its work or was it more of a "team effort"?
- It is very difficult, as they say, to separate the text from its context. I think that precisely because the majority force of the Convention thought that its ideas were strictly what was needed, the citizens who lived there fell into certain arrogant attitudes that gave the Convention a very bad reputation and a very bad press; and today people are punishing it very much for that.
The other phenomenon that occurred in parallel and was also complicit in this, I believe, was the political climate that was generated in the Convention. The political moment gave rise to a very poor legal quality of the text. Then some who wanted parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism ended up offering an attenuated presidentialism with an asymmetric bicameralism, which is an innovation, a legal anomaly in the world. Added to this, the surprise of the configuration of the People's List, the declaration of the convention members defending the "prisoners of the revolt" created bad conditions for a text of good legal quality.
- Did these events also affect the impetus for change we were talking about?
- It is often said that we must be innovative and not be afraid of certain changes, it is not bad to be innovative, but we cannot experiment with the political life of a nation in crisis. And much less experiment with a political system. Or with a plurinationality that is far from the needs we have as a country; the good intentions sink in that arrogant attitude with which the text ended up being offered.
- Let's acknowledge the term of arrogance. Because a few days before the election, in an 11-a-side game, it would seem that both sides ended up with 2 players standing and the rest in the mud.
In politics, discrepancy is always based on thinking that one's ideas are the ones that make the country better. That they are more likely to generate a society with greater welfare and that pride is not bad, it is key for the discussion in democracy. But the arrogance that is punished in this process has to do with this logic of cancellation because one adheres to a certain political vision. You are immediately banned from participating in the definitions of the text because you believe that the diagnosis you have and the ideas to which you adhere are precisely the ideas in a literal way, let's say what best responds to the problems that people have. It is the arrogance of not negotiating and of simply ignoring the others for having the majority. In the text, I understand that only four articles of the 399 are from political forces other than the majority.
- But that happens in democracies. He who has the majority wins. And the right wing, having a no lesser number of convention members, only managed to include, as it says, four articles. Shouldn't there be self-criticism in them too?
The right wing believed that the votes they had were enough to be taken into account. They should have gone out to look for, to conquer through their thinking, their reasons and their look, their political vision. So I would say that they are arrogance that intertwine and that they were a factor of interaction that allowed the political sector to pass over the right without even recognizing that it was making them arrogant, because in the end that would have been covering the sun with a finger.
- I suppose there are shades of this conventional hubris in your opinion. What elements do you rescue from the text?
The incorporation of the care of nature and the environment in a decisive manner. A social and democratic rule of law and the incorporation of social rights is an advance, as well as the recognition of indigenous peoples, food protection, gender equity. But beware, they all have their flats, their surnames and that in some cases produces dead letters or further deepens the frustration for not meeting the expectations that the text should generate.
- And in legal terms, do you share witnessing any technical aberration in the draft of the new constitution?
- The political system and its lack of vision as a whole. To understand that it works like this: if you move one piece, probably the other will stop moving or will move in a different way. This means that social rights, instead of being discussed as public policy, the ultimate definition of whether a person has a social right is transferred to the judge.
The political system that this draft brings is an experiment that for the first time we are going to witness as humanity, at least since the modern state has existed, to have an attenuated presidentialism with an asymmetric bicameral Congress. Few things are more important in a constitution than a political system. And that is why it must necessarily be coherent and have an overall vision.
The lack of weights and counterweights, in the end, the failure to put a stop to fragmentation, but rather to consolidate it in many ways, means that this political system does not solve one of the main problems that existed in the current political system, which is to solve the inability to process social demands. We did not give the institutionality the possibility to solve these problems.
Furthermore, I believe that every healthy democratic system has strong political parties at its heart, but such was the obsession to homologate political parties with social organizations that they forgot to regulate them as they should. This not only does not strengthen the political system, but it does not require Education political, it does not require accountability. In this way it is very difficult to guarantee a correct functioning.
- Under this reasoning, if I understand correctly, it tells me that not only the impetus for change is not solved, but also the reasons why we are experiencing a social explosion are deepened.
There is a good chance that the problems we have now will become even more tense and will deepen even more strongly. Because everything tends to fragmentation, presidentialism is weakened where it should not have been and empowered where it did not need to be. As if that were not enough, a brief mention is made of the electoral system, saying that it is parity and with substantive equality, but without any guidelines as to how it will work. And this does not give any certainty in relation to avoiding fragmentation, but rather deepens it.
- And shouldn't certainty be provided by legislation emanating from the Constitution ?
The problem is that the political system in a Constitution has to obey some logic and the problem is logic. As much as there are laws that implement and regulate these institutions that the Constitution enshrines, without a logic that underlies their origin they make no sense. As it is an attenuated presidentialism, with an asymmetric bicameralism whose logic does not incorporate exprofeso a regulation of the political parties; then any law is going to reproduce those problems. They can hardly be improved if the base is truncated.
The last meters of the plebiscite
- How have you seen the commands of both options? Can we conceptually extrapolate some verticals of each one?
- More distinctively, the rejection has played in the logic of transversality, whether some like it or not, it is evident that there are many expressions to demonstrate that it has been the only option capable of gathering different political forces. And it is curious, because it has managed to summon forces and political groupings that were excluded from the Convention in general. I do not believe that there are many people on the right who vote for the "Apruebo", but we do know of people on the left who openly support the "Rechazo".
Secondly, both commands have favored the reading of the text. And here I would like to point out that this has implied that in the face of the activity of reading, a very dishonest response of the "I approve" type has appeared, and that is that any critical review of the text is labeled as fake news, instead of taking charge of the criticisms based on arguments, they throw the ball to the balcony. I think it obeys to a strategy of assimilating an eventual victory of the rejection with signaling problems that occurred with Trump or Brexit. And I sincerely ask myself, if it is that people on the left who vote rejection bought an ointment that was sold to them in a fake news, or rejection is an equally valid option as approval.
- It is a strategy that seems to be quite busy for people of both options, to treat each other as liars, or the other way around, to assure that they are the owners of a true interpretation of the text .
- I believe that the action of determining whether a fact is true or not -or fact checking-, is not only obeying to empirically verify whether something happens or not. Different opinions or different interpretations of the same article have begun to be labeled as true or false, and this seems to me to be dishonest. For example, on the issue of housing. It is said that the right to property is not guaranteed because the word "own" is not included, which gives rise to counter-arguments saying that this interpretation is fake news. How can a logical interpretation of a text be fake...!
The same with respect to free abortion. I interpret article 61 as a proposal for free abortion because it is not subject to any grounds. And in a recent debate with Carolina Tohá, she said that this was fake news. So, instead of arguing why she thinks it is not fake news and why my interpretation is wrong, she simply claims that I am telling fake news because she thinks it is not free abortion. I think it's important to distinguish between facts and interpretations and saying that the different interpretation is a lie turns the discussion into a disingenuous one.
- The right wing lacks a street", is a premise that constantly haunts the sector like a chocolatier spirit. Could your life experiences in general, and your time at Techo in particular, help us explore the causes of this lack of street?
- I believe that the right and rejection are two different phenomena. Why is rejection so transversal and why does no political sector want to appropriate it? It is precisely because the rejection obeys to very different reasons. The proposal of the Constitution affects many interests, very different.
Regarding the right wing, I think it is a very obvious reason: change mobilizes more than the defense of the status quo. And I believe that the right wing, for that very reason, has to be reformist, has to have the horizon of changes that are opportune, that are timely, that are based on its ideas. And not only, in the end, to be content with defending the ideas of freedom, but to think of a timely change of institutional arrangement that allows it to offer concrete solutions to the pains of the person. Defending the status quo has been the vice that has prevented the right wing from offering timely changes.
The spirit behind the approval has to do with conditions for change, which seems to me to be difficult to achieve with this constitutional proposal. And it seems to me that precisely this spirit of change is what motivates an approval from the beginning, -which I joined- but finally these conditions of change were not just any old thing. And one sees that the people of Chile somehow always end up electing the candidates who are more towards the center. But that also obeys to what? to whom? It is not enough only that the Constitution is written by someone different -Four generals as President Boric said-, but it is very relevant what is offered and what is offered seems to me that it is evident that it does not facilitate the reform in time.
- What should "next season" of the right-wing series look like if it wins approval or rejection?
-In general, the right should be a responsible opposition. The road, if it wins the approval, would be very long. The "approval to reform" is very difficult, not only because of the quorum but also because the implementation of the new Constitution will require a long time. It will take years to make the mandates of the constituent, of the legislator, to create the institutions. And once that happens, a lot of time will have passed. Therefore, it is not possible to reform and at the same time implement the Constitution.
In the event that the rejection wins, it seems to me that it is very important that those sectors of the center-left that are already in favor of rejection, will simply join the impetus that the right wing has already declared, which is to continue building a good new Constitution that takes charge of the constitutional tradition of Chile and that is not in a refoundational spirit, but that can pick up the spirit of change that the citizenship demands. And if the rejection wins, those who are convinced to vote "I approve", it seems to me that they have to join that spirit by identifying in a humble way which are those problems that did not make sense to the citizenship and try to converge in a conversation that is truly representative and not with a spirit of revenge. It seems to me that the path of rejection really allows the construction of that spirit of change with continuity that makes the most sense to the people.
Interview with Cristián Stewart, Executive Director of IdeaPaís, published by The Clinic on August 27th. of 2022. You can read it here.