By Alexander Villegas
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – An assembly in Chile charged with drawing up the country’s new constitution extended the deadline by which the first draft must be ready by three months on Tuesday, as its members struggle to digest a lengthy list of proposals addressing environmental and social issues.
With 114 votes in favor, eight against and 25 abstaining, the assembly approved a one-time extension that sets the new date for the draft constitution to July 5.
“Despite our progress, we know we have a long constituent process that has to be done in a short time,” said Maria Elisa Quinteros, president of the constituent assembly, during a speech before the vote to extend the deadline.
“We can’t waste this unique opportunity the citizens of Chile have given us,” Quinteros said.
If the constituent assembly is unable to draft a new constitution by the July 5 deadline, the current one that dates back to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet will remain in effect.
Constituents have been debating and voting on proposals since mid February and Quinteros said that 84 articles have been approved so far.
There were originally more than 1,200 proposals, but some were rejected in committees, others were removed, and several merged together. The environmental commission, for example, had 40 proposals but only one has been approved.
Francisco Zambrano, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chile, told Reuters that time limits were essential because drafting a new constitution creates “uncertainty and institutional instability.”
With proposals that include reshaping Chile’s political system and nationalizing mining, the assembly has sent jitters through markets during the past year. Any proposal needs the agreement of two-thirds of the assembly to make it to the final draft, which has tempered some of the more radical ones.
An article guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights, including abortion, was approved last week, putting at least one controversial topic on the ballot in a historically conservative country.
Chileans will decide whether to approve or reject the proposed constitution in a mandatory plebiscite later this year.
(Reporting by Alexander Villegas, Fabian Cambero and Natalia Ramos, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)