After days of basking in victory, Chile’s opposition leaders Saturday pondered how to transform their triumph at the polls into concrete reforms restoring fully democratic rule--without fracturing their fragile alliance in the process.
Many of the 16 political parties in the No Command, the coalition that defeated Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Wednesday’s presidential plebiscite, held separate, informal meetings to plan strategy and set priorities for the months ahead. By Monday or Tuesday, the coalition hopes to make its demands public.
Opposition leaders agreed in interviews that one objective is paramount: persuading the armed forces to negotiate changes in the constitution to speed up and broaden future civilian democratic rule. But they acknowledge privately that there is disagreement on how hard to press the military, whether to seek Pinochet’s early resignation and, perhaps toughest of all, who should be their single “unity candidate” for president.
It was difficult enough to form the alliance in February and to sustain an opposition bloc spanning ideologies from center-right to Marxist left, with the single goal of defeating Pinochet in the plebiscite. Now the issue has moved beyond a straightforward No to the more complex matter of proposing and achieving positive alternatives.
Pinochet was decisively beaten by a margin of 55% to 43% in the yes-or-no vote, setting off jubilant celebrations in the streets, including chants demanding that he step down now. But he told the nation that he would serve out his term until March, 1990, following presidential and congressional elections that the constitution requires be held in December, 1989. He also said he saw no need to change the constitution, which lets him stay on as commander in chief of the army for up to eight more years and gives a military-dominated National Security Council broad authority in the government.
Pinochet’s civilian right-hand man, Interior Minister Sergio Fernandez, described the outcome as a victory of sorts for the regime, telling reporters that the Yes vote was all for Pinochet but that the No’s 55% must be divided 16 ways. His comments deepened the sense that Pinochet will hang tough, making few or no concessions.
Given his apparent intransigence, the opposition may need to resort to roundabout routes to reach the military. Party officials said that the opposition has already had some informal contact through intermediaries with a few senior officers, simply to establish a spirit of good will and reconciliation in advance of negotiations.
‘Some Willing to Talk’
“There are indications in the indirect contacts with the armed forces that some are willing to talk,” said Luis Maira, president of the Christian Left party.
Maira said that the No Command also was encouraged by the strong show of discipline by the public after Pinochet’s defeat. While some celebrations turned violent and two demonstrators died, Maira said that, for the most part, the people avoided conflict and accepted the guidance of the No Command to show restraint. “We had feared a much more tense climate,” he added.
Statements Friday by leaders of conservative parties who had supported Pinochet in the plebiscite provided further optimism for the opposition. National Renovation, an influential rightist party, said that it agreed on the need for constitutional changes, particularly the clauses that make the document nearly impossible to amend and a requirement that one-fourth of the senators in the future congress be appointed rather than popularly elected.
Pinochet May Become Isolated
Sergio Bitar, an economist and senior member of the Party for Democracy, a group that includes elements from the old Socialist Party of the late Marxist President Salvador Allende, said such attitudes would leave Pinochet increasingly isolated in coming days.
“The private sector will start saying, ‘we cannot stick with this guy.’ And he will become more and more a burden to the rest of the military,” Bitar said.
Despite the government’s threats and warnings that chaos would follow a No victory, even Pinochet’s supporters seem to have realized that a moderate and unified opposition poses no danger to stability, Bitar said. “The dollar didn’t shoot up, the stock market didn’t fall. Pro-Pinochet people will see that things are normal.”
But serious obstacles loom for the opposition, especially in the interplay between the center and the left, each of which usually wins the support of about one-third of Chile’s voters.
Push for Change
Leftist parties are under pressure from their constituencies to push hard and fast for dramatic change, including Pinochet’s immediate resignation. A number of leftist parties are in the No Command.
The outlawed Communist Party and Revolutionary Leftist Movement, known by its Spanish initials as MIR, are not part of the No coalition, but they are the main components of the United Left, a separate alliance that includes five parties that are members of the No Command.
The United Left has been relatively willing to give ground to the centrists so far, but some concessions would prove hard for its members to tolerate, and tensions between the No Command and the United Left will be hard to avoid.
Centrist elements in the No Command, notably the Christian Democratic Party, Chile’s largest, are not keen to demand punishment of security force members who committed human rights abuses after the military and police coup against Allende in 1973 that put Pinochet in power. Most left-wing parties insist that any future democratic government put accused abusers on trial, a stance that could discourage the military from dealing with the opposition.
Ban on Marxist Left
A key problem is whether the Marxist left will be allowed to compete at all in Chilean politics. The Communists and MIR, along with a guerrilla group, have been barred under Article 8 of the constitution, which prohibits totalitarian parties and those that advocate class warfare. The centrists in the No Command agree that article should be scrapped, but given the military’s aversion to communism, the issue could become a sticking point if it jeopardizes hoped-for talks with the military.
The timing of the next election is also a concern. Some parties argue that Pinochet must be pressed to move the vote up by as much as a year, to December of this year, while others say they can live with a longer transition period to allow them to regroup and establish national bases. That could become a major issue in any negotiations with the military.
The idea of selecting an opposition “unity candidate” has drawn broad support to counter what will likely be a single rightist candidate. Some suggest that loopholes in a “no reelection” clause of the constitution would allow Pinochet himself to run, provided he steps down before the vote, although that prospect now seems remote.
The No Command largely agrees that the candidate must be moderate, perhaps even right of center. Most leftists recognize the perils of a polarized right-left choice.
Plenty of Possibilities
Dozens of names have been mentioned, including those of Arturo Alessandri Besa and Eduardo Frei Ruiz Tagle, sons of respected past presidents. Also mentioned have been Patricio Aylwin, president of the Christian Democratic Party, and Andres Zaldivar, party vice president, both of whom have played central roles in the No coalition.
However, Aylwin angered some elements in the No Command during the campaign by forming a separate centrist coalition, with five small parties grouped around the Christian Democrats, in an attempt to offer a potential moderate alternative in future elections.
For the moment, the parties are leaving aside discussions on the choice of a candidate to concentrate on finding ways to get the armed forces to enter into talks. Among the commanders of the armed forces and police, only Pinochet has spoken publicly since the plebiscite, and there have been no public indications yet of cracks in the military’s solidarity.
As it girds for the weeks ahead, the still-united No coalition realizes the need to show some results to a population that was painstakingly persuaded that the plebiscite could be fair and that Pinochet could be defeated.
“So far, the people have shown understanding that it doesn’t end with the No victory, that we must maintain all our force and discipline to get Pinochet out of power,” said German Correa, leader of a faction of the old Socialist Party. “But the people are on the alert and awaiting a reply. It can’t take too long or attitudes could change.”