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Chile cannot continue postponing the transformation that the country demands

Interview - January 20, 2015

As she doesn’t come from a rich family or a traditional political clan in Chile, Ximena Rincón, Minister Secretary General to the Presidency, considers herself “a good example of what quality education can produce”. In this interview, she discusses the significance of the reforms, and explains in more details the need for a new constitution and a new electoral system.


With its vibrant democracy, strong institutions, low corruption levels and an open and free economy, Chile is considered to be the economic miracle of Latin America. In March 2014, a new cycle began with the second administration of President Michelle Bachelet. What are the main challenges Chile is facing in this new stage?

Indeed, Chile has been praised and recognized for its economic growth and development. As a result we had very positive economic indicators, which certainly made us very proud. Nevertheless, there are aspects of a country’s reality that are not reflected by macroeconomic indicators. That is why President Bachelet’s program has three main structural areas of focus that are motivating, but also challenging: the fiscal reform, the educational reform and the new constitution. These three pillars are directly related to the increasing demand for social equity in today’s Chile.

Our poet, Nicanor Parra, describes this situation quite well when he says: “There are two loafs of bread. You eat two and I don’t eat any: average consumption, one loaf of bread per person”. President Bachelet understood that Chile could not wait any longer and she took on the challenge and decided to stop sweeping our inequalities under the carpet.

In order to end these inequalities it is essential to improve our education system, a pending task on our agenda for many years now. The problem is that in Chile opportunities are not readily available and the new generations simply cannot wait any longer. To implement the reform of the educational system, we need money, so first we have to reform our fiscal system to be able to collect capital in a more fair, efficient and equitable way.

The third objective of this administration is to draft a new constitution. We want to take charge of this historic and refoundational matter, which is directly related to our convictions. The current constitution was created during the dictatorship era, in the 1980s, within four walls and by a group of people who all thought the same way. It was not consulted with anyone.

This time, we want the civil society to participate and be actively involved in the discussions about the new constitution. Recent studies and poles show that 73% of Chileans want a new constitution. I don’t think that this is because they have a detailed knowledge of the current constitution, but rather because Chileans have a great respect for democratic and republican values. They know that a Magna Carta has to be created in a consensual manner and adopted in democracy.

Is there any particular constitutional model that you look up to as an inspiration?

We have reviewed past experiences in Europe, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, etc. The case of Spain is a good example even though it is very specific because the new constitution was made after the death of General Francisco Franco, at the beginning of the transition. In Chile we also gained our democracy in a pacific way and we went through a transition, nonetheless, we did not modify our constitution. It is a very delicate issue and the entire world is following very closely what we are doing today in Chile.

Usually, when we talk about the establishment of a constitution, we refer to “the fathers of the constitution”. It seems that in Chile, the future generations will talk about the “mothers of the new constitution”…

The best would be if they could talk about the fathers and the mothers of the constitution. If you look back, you will realize that often women remained invisible in this kind of process no matter how significant their contribution was, and that is not good. If we want an inclusive constitution that recognizes everyone equally, than it should have both fathers and mothers. I believe that President Bachelet has the necessary strength and credibility to lead the process of a constitutional pact in a way that Chile has never seen before.

Another significant reform on the agenda is the change of the binominal system, which was established during the last period of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Could you please explain in more details the main points of this reform?

The binominal system applies to the parliamentary elections, as the municipal elections, for example, have a proportional system. We want to change the current binominal system so that the Parliament is not entirely controlled by the two main coalitions. We want to change to a moderate proportional representation system that will make it possible for the majorities to express themselves adequately.

There will also be a change in the value of the votes in order to make it more fair and representative. Currently, for example, Santiago’s Metropolitan Region has many more inhabitants in each district than other regions of Chile; as a consequence the value of the vote of a citizen of Santiago is minor than the value of the vote of a citizen from another regions. It is asymmetric and we want to correct this with the new law that will change the binominal system.

Another initiative of President Bachelet is to increase the participation of women in the Parliament. Currently only 15% of the Parliament members in Chile are women, whereas the average in Latin America is 19%. In order to improve these figures, under the new legislation the political parties will be obliged to present at least 60% male and 40% female candidates.

Another hot topic is the financing of political campaigns. Several corruption cases have put in evidence the need to revise the financing of political parties.

This government was committed to resolving this matter long before the fiscal frauds became public. We decided to tackle this issue not because of corruption scandals, but because we aspire towards equity, transparency and democratic principles.

It was a pure coincidence that a corruption case, which was recently dismantled, allegedly showed how certain politicians can benefit from the financing of a company during their campaigns. It is important to make this distinction, because our goal is to improve Chile’s financing system for elections.

For instance, we want to eliminate the possibility for a company to make secret donations to political parties, where the public opinion does not know who the donor is, but the candidate who receives the money knows where the donation is coming from. In fact, even during her first mandate (2006-2010), President Bachelet had decided to eliminate this system, but the Parliament did not approve that decision.

On a more personal level, you don’t come from a rich family or a traditional political clan in Chile. Still, your dedication, consistency and passion for work have brought you to one of the key positions in the current administration. Could we say that your professional trajectory embodies the “American Dream” in Chile?

I am a good example of what quality education can produce, and how important is to be able to attend a good school and a good college. My parents taught me that my only inheritance would be my education and I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had. I don’t know if I am an expression of the American Dream, but I know that my parents taught me to be rigorous and hard working.

What do you think is important to understand about today’s Chile?

I was recently part of the official Presidential visit to Spain and I have observed great admiration for Chile. I think that the international community appreciates the seriousness of our work, our consistency and our results.

Today, Chile faces two main challenges: the first one is to understand that we cannot continue postponing the transformation that the country demands so that the opportunities can reach all our citizens. President Bachelet is aware that this is a challenge that cannot wait any longer.

Our second challenge is to be able to attend to the demand for greater social justice and economic equity, while managing the current global economic downturn, which has also affected Chile’s economic growth. Our economy is still growing, even though at a slower pace than usual (2%), but at least we are not in recession like other countries. Nevertheless, we know that if we want to accelerate our social transformations, we obviously need to improve the rhythm of economic growth.

This means that the confidence that Chile enjoys abroad also has to be shared by the major economic players domestically. President Bachelet has said it on various occasions, and I am confident as well that we are going to improve our growth level in 2015, and without a doubt, in 2016 we will recover completely.