Pinochet to Allow Vote on Reforms : Chilean President Agrees to Several Opposition Demands
President Augusto Pinochet, embracing several opposition demands, agreed Saturday that a new plebiscite should be held on proposed constitutional reforms that would broaden democratic rights in Chile.
Pinochet addressed the nation on the final day of his eight-year mandate under the 1980 constitution. His defeat in a plebiscite last October denied him another eight-year term that would have begun Saturday. Instead, he will serve one more year in office, and elections in December will determine his successor.
Opposition leaders said that Pinochet’s announcement went partway toward meeting their demands, such as shortening the eight-year presidential term, possibly to four years. But they said that Pinochet avoided any commitment to a number of fundamental changes needed to fully restore civilian, democratic rule.
A coalition of 17 opposition parties has insisted that last October’s ballot was not only a vote against Pinochet, but a vote in favor of changing the system he has constructed since the armed forces seized power in a coup in 1973.
Would Hold Broad Power
Under the current constitution, the armed forces would continue to hold broad power under the next elected president, in part through the National Security Council. Pinochet, commander of the army, along with the other three services’ commanders, could not be removed by the elected president for eight years.
Pinochet said the six changes he is willing to consider submitting to a plebiscite include: rescinding the president’s right to dissolve the House of Deputies in the new congress; removing the presidential power to consign people to exile and to ban their return to the country during states of siege, and adding a new, presumably civilian, member to the seven-member security council, now dominated by the four commanders in chief.
Along with shortening the presidential term, he also would be willing to accept modification of a provision that some analysts interpret as forbidding even the expression of Marxist ideas.
However, Pinochet made no reference to a demand that the entire clause--which bans Marxist parties, traditionally a significant minority force in Chilean politics--be scrapped.
Finally, the president said he would consider simplifying the system for amending the constitution, which would make amendments extremely hard to adopt after the December elections. Specific proposals on each point will be drafted after consultations with the nation’s political sectors, he said.
No Date Set
He did not set a date for a plebiscite, which at present is required in order to make constitutional changes. But Interior Minister Carlos Caceres said that the referendum would be soon, and many expect it in May or June.
Pinochet hardly sounded like a defeated, lame-duck president, even though he cannot seek the presidency in December.
He brusquely derided the opposition alliance that defeated him last October and is now attempting to agree on a unity presidential candidate for the coming election. Pinochet accused the alliance of trickery and deception and of relying on millions of dollars in foreign contributions to finance its successful campaign.
“Perhaps they have forgotten that every favor, especially those of this nature, usually must be paid back at a very high price,” Pinochet said. “Be careful with the sale of consciences!”
The opposition parties “now are seeking alliances with Marxist groups, based on concessions and reciprocal payments that in the near future, no doubt, will be called in,” he said. He compared the current negotiations to those in 1970 in which some non-Marxist parties, principally the Christian Democrats, agreed to the presidency of Salvador Allende. Three years later, the armed forces toppled Allende’s government, which was dominated by two Marxist-Leninist parties, the Communists and Allende’s Socialists.
Patricio Aylwin, president of the Christian Democratic Party and the most likely opposition unity candidate for president in December, said Pinochet’s speech showed that “he doesn’t understand what is happening in this country. He continues to live in the past, as if nothing had happened (in October). He still tries to frighten people by raising the specter of a return to the past that no one wants.”
Aylwin, 70, said that “within this negative context, I believe there are a few positive elements. He has suggested some changes that coincide with the demands of the opposition alliance. But in our platform, there are many more that are necessary as well.”
Those include allowing the president to select his own armed services commanders and requiring popular election of all senators. The constitution now calls for the appointment of nine senators, and Pinochet, as a former president, would automatically be a life member of the Senate.
Main Parties Called for Changes
After the October plebiscite, Pinochet bluntly ruled out any constitutional changes. But the two main conservative parties that supported him in that campaign, National Renovation and the Union of Democratic Independents, quickly distanced themselves from the defeated general and said that changes were needed. They also ruled out his candidacy as unviable as well as unconstitutional.
Those two parties have been squabbling in recent months, and Pinochet on Saturday, after addressing invited guests in a government hall, told thousands of supporters on the street that unity is crucial in the coming campaign.
The leading contender for the conservative candidacy is Hernan Buchi Buc, finance minister in Pinochet’s Cabinet, although some on the right prefer Sergio Onofre Jarpa, the veteran president of National Renovation.
The opposition, too, has become engulfed in the internal politicking that is a Chilean trademark. The center-left Christian Democrats, the country’s largest party since the mid-1960s, fought publicly over their choice for president before virtually settling on Aylwin. The party also is haggling over how to divide up, among the alliance candidates, the 120 seats in the house and 26 in the Senate to be decided in December.
With the Christian Democrats dithering, a group of left-of-center parties, led by Ricardo Lagos, proposed Radical Party President Enrique Silva Cimma as a compromise choice. Another leftist party, the Broad-Left Socialist Party, known in Spanish as PAIS, has been formed, drawing in some Marxist parties. PAIS has yet to endorse a candidate.
After the surprisingly strong unity of the opposition during the campaign leading up to the October plebiscite, the recent infighting has been a windfall for government supporters, who warn of a return to the divisive splits of the Allende years.
Pinochet repeatedly attacked the opposition’s jockeying and mocked the alliance’s symbol, the rainbow: “I ask the gentlemen of the rainbow that they lower their political ambitions, because they can become intoxicating.”
Yet the opposition alliance so far has not disintegrated, and its leaders insist that its disputes will be resolved peaceably, in time for a united campaign against the government candidate.