Chile’s “constitutional problem”: a matter of popular sovereignty

Near three decades after Chile’s return to democracy its constitution remains a source of persistent unease. It is not only that the constitution was approved during an oppressive and murderous dictatorship after a fraudulent plebiscite but, via a series of mechanisms usually called “authoritarian enclaves”, the constitution has thwarted reform of key political and economic policies. On this account, even as the political order it constitutes increasingly resembles a formal democracy, it will not become a substantial democracy, ie. one that allows government to truly pursue the interests of the many. I argue in this paper that this can only be understood from the demands of popular sovereignty. Paradoxically, to explain why the constitution has, nonetheless, proved to be so resistant to attempts at wholesale reform one has to understand that it has come to be unintendedly endowed with democratic credentials by the leading Chilean democratic political parties and leaders.