Last Thursday, Chile’s chamber of deputies took time out from business as usual to conduct a constitutional interrogation, questioning Education Minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre on his progress regarding education reform. The interrogation was requested by members of the opposing coalition, led by right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) Deputy María José Hoffman. Almost 700 citizens sent questions for Minister Eyzaguirre through the website that the UDI set up for the occasion.
The interrogation was marked by riots in the stands and received criticism from the ruling party and members of civil society. Independent Deputy Gabriel Boric wrote on his Twitter account:
“Horrible, each team brought their hooligans, no one listens to anyone, there are threats to evict the public… and on education there has been little said. Who wins with this spectacle?”
Mal. Cada equipo trajo su barra, nadie escucha a nadie, amenazas de desalojo… y de educación, pocazo. ¿Quien gana con este show?
— Gabriel Boric (@gabrielboric) noviembre 26, 2014
The points discussed in the interrogation referred to the usage of tax reform resources in education and the possibility of introducing changes in the legislative project that seeks to end profit-making, copayment and selection in schools.
The disgruntled deputies are also considering opening debate on what they allege is the unconstitutional nature of some aspects of the education reform and intend on resorting to the Constitutional Court.
Towards the end of the interrogation, as it became clear that no concrete agreement would be reached, Eyzaguirre said, “I still think we don’t understand each other.”
After the session, the Chamber of Deputies remained extremely polarized, with conflicting opinions on the issue.
“It has become clearer than ever that neither the Minister of Education nor the government know what the course of education reform is,” said UDI Deputy Jaime Bellolio, later adding that, if the reform were to take place, “it will be [the UDI’s] mission to undo it.” On the other hand, the ruling coalition insisted that Eyzaguirre demonstrated the strength of the project at hand, even congratulating him after the session, and felt it had united the parties.
“We are very pleased because now the country knows the reach and scope of the educational reform,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said.
Hoffman herself was also heavily criticized for her performance as moderator. The president of the Communist Party, Guillermo Teillier, posted on his Twitter account that Hoffman was clueless in the face of Eyzaguirre’s solid defense.
“The responses of the minister are too overwhelming for the moderator’s understanding.”
Las respuestas del ministro son demasiado contundentes para el entendimiento de la interpeladora. — Guillermo Teillier (@gteillier) noviembre 26, 2014
Problems and setbacks in regard to the education reform have brought President Michelle Bachelet’s governance under increased scrutiny. In an interview with a local radio station, former presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei said, “Why is the government formulating such bad projects? Because they haven’t given [the minister] the time to study them. The president requests three, four, five projects of Eyzaguirre, all before the end of the year, and that is simply impossible.”