LATIN AMERICA REVIEW - CHILE: PLEBISCITE RESULTS

Created: 9/19/1980

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Chile: Plebiscite Results

President Pinochet's position has been temporarily strengthened byictory in the constitutional plebiscite held on ll September. The referendum aroused opponents of the military regime, however, and unless Pinochet is able to undercut them|he may in time face vigorous domestic opposition.

Pinochet's immediate gains are striking. His direct military rule is confirmednd he then has the option of running for an eight-year termivilian. Opposition leaders who hadno" vote or boycott trpearpercent ofjthe electorate turned out andercent approved the constitution and transition articles. Many military moderates will be!pleasedefinite timetableeturn'to civilian rule has been establishea:

By lending an aura of legitimacy to Pinochet's regime for the first time in its seven-year history, theenhancesihis international image. The absence of violence and the massive voter turnout will make it easier for Pinochet to ignore foreign critics of the plebiscite.

.The government, however, may [confront,some unexpected results. The plebiscite has rallied and partially unified opposition groups that had been dormant or!were perennialnjthe largest antiregime gathering since3 coup, tens of thousands of moderates and Marxists turned outpeech denouncing the plebiscite by Christian Democratic leader Eduardo Frei. The plebiscite also may have given the Christian Democrats and theParty the impetus to renew past efforts toorking relationship.

T

i The plebiscite further damaged church-state rela-which were already Btrained by recentto halt renewed terrorism. Chilean churchspoke out against,the plebiscite for failing toa reasonable alternative to continued

Pinochet could defuse much of the criticism ifakes advantage of his newly strengthened positionake concessions to mollify moderate opponents ofegime. For example, he could increase civilianin his cabinet, which is currently being .reorganized, and thus move closer to the jointivilian transitional government advocated by Frei.

The President's past record, however, indicates he islikely to capitalize on this opportunity. Histeps toward reform and liberalization have comehen he felt he was under pressure. For example,elayed suppressing the notorious security agency until regime moderates forced him to act similarly, he restored labor rights only when faced with an international boycott of Chilean shipping Pinochet, in fact, stalled on putting the constitution itselfote until

increased domestic discontent related to the revival of

terrorism convinced him the regimehot in the arm.

Unless Pinochet appears willing to compromise, the long-term effect of the plebiscite may be toather than undercut, the opposition.' Opposition leaders are now facedonstitutional arrangementeightore years of Pinochet rule and maythey have little to lose by stepping up.antiregime activities. Although most will initially concentrate on peaceful means, frustration could eventually drive some to violence.

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