1988 Chilean presidential referendum

A referendum on whether Augusto Pinochet, the head of a military dictatorship, should become president for eight years under resumed civilian rule was held in Chile on October 5, 1988. The "No" side won with 56% of the vote, marking the end of Pinochet's 16+12-year rule. Democratic elections were held in 1989, leading to the establishment of a new government in 1990.

1988 Chilean presidential referendum

← 1980 5 October 1988 (1988-10-05) 1989 →
Plebiscite: President of the Republic
Augusto Pinochet Ugarte
Votes %
Yes 3,119,110 44.01%
No 3,967,579 55.99%
Valid votes 7,086,689 97.72%
Invalid or blank votes 165,254 2.28%
Total votes 7,251,943 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 7,429,404 97.61%
Results by commune

Background edit

Army General Augusto Pinochet and leaders of the Air Force, Navy, and police force took power on September 11, 1973, in a coup d'état that deposed the democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. Allende died as the presidential palace was being bombarded.[1] A military junta – led by Pinochet, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, Navy Admiral José Toribio Merino, and Carabinero Chief General César Mendoza – was sworn in the same evening.

The following day, the four drafted an official document suspending the 1925 constitution and Congress, establishing the Junta as the country's supreme authority. Pinochet was designated as its first president, and the four verbally agreed to rotate the office. Shortly after, the Junta formed an advisory committee, which Pinochet successfully staffed with Army officers loyal to himself. One of their initial recommendations was to discard the idea of a rotating presidency, arguing it would create too many administrative problems and lead to confusion.[2]

In March 1974, six months after the Junta's establishment, Pinochet verbally attacked the Christian Democratic Party, stating that there was no set timetable for a return to civilian rule. On December 18, 1974, Pinochet was declared the Supreme Leader of the nation.[2] After that date, the junta functioned strictly as a legislative body until the return to democracy in 1990.

On September 24, 1973, the junta set up a commission to draft a blueprint for a new constitution. By October 5, 1978, the commission had completed its work. Over the next two years, the proposal was studied by the Chilean Council of State, presided over by former president Jorge Alessandri. In July 1980, the Council submitted a Constitution draft to Pinochet and the Junta. A constitutional referendum, considered "highly irregular"[3] and "fraudulent"[4] by some observers, occurred on September 11, 1980, in which 67% of voters approved the new constitution.[5]

The Constitution took effect on March 11, 1981, establishing a "transition period." During this time, Pinochet would wield executive power and the Junta would hold legislative power for the next eight years. Before this period ended, a presidential candidate was to be proposed by the Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Carabinero Chief General for the following eight-year term. The candidate would be ratified by registered voters in a national plebiscite. On August 30, 1988, Pinochet was declared the candidate.

In the last years of the dictatorship, the commanders-in-chief of the Navy, Air Force, and Carabineros distanced themselves from Pinochet, expressing their wish for a civilian to represent the regime in the 1988 plebiscite. However, Pinochet imposed himself as the candidate.[6]

Plebiscite edit

Original ballot

The plebiscite – as detailed in the 1980 Constitution – consisted of two choices:

  • Yes: the proposed candidate is approved. Pinochet takes office on 11 March 1989 for an eight-year mandate, and parliamentary elections are held nine months after he is sworn in. The Junta continues to exercise legislative power until the newly elected Congress takes office on 11 March 1990.
  • No: the proposed candidate is rejected. Pinochet and the Junta continue in power for another year and a half. Presidential and parliamentary elections are held three months before Pinochet's term expires. The newly elected president and Congress take office on 11 March 1990.

Political endorsements edit

Yes edit

No edit

Null vote edit

The campaign edit

Symbol of the "Yes" option.

The campaign is regarded, along with the registration process, as one of the key factors that led to the victory of the No side in the plebiscite.

For the first time in the history of Chile, both options were guaranteed free electoral advertising spaces—franjas—of 15 minutes each, late at night or early in the morning. (There were similar spaces in prime time, but only for the government). They were first broadcast on 5 September, at 11 pm, just one month before the referendum. In a short time the spots prepared by the No side were seen to be better, despite the Yes side creating a more elaborate campaign devised by an Argentinian advertising agency and with the assistance of the Chilean Armed Forces. The Minister of the Interior Sergio Fernández, one of the main coordinators of the official campaign, said:

The (campaign) results were poor. In a few days nobody could ignore the evident technical superiority of the No campaign: superior in argumentation, superior in filming, superior in music. Its signature tune, with the slogan "La alegría ya viene" (Joy is coming) as its main element, was so catchy that even the Yes campaign creatives hummed it during their brainstorming sessions.

Main logo of the No campaign, el arcoíris (the rainbow)

The No side used a rainbow as its main symbol, with the intention of symbolising the plural views of the opposition (each member party had its own colour depicted in the rainbow) and, at the same time, the hope of a better Chile and a more prosperous future. Their campaign, directed by American and Chilean advertising men, combined both criticism (including testimony by victims of torture and relatives of disappeared people during the dictatorship) and optimism, highlighting that the No option did not mean returning to the socialist system of former president Salvador Allende, but the re-establishment of democracy. This idea was supported by the appearance of right-wing leaders standing for No. A popular jingle was composed, with the main slogan of the campaign, "Chile, la alegría ya viene" (Chile, joy is on its way), and both Chilean and international celebrities, such as Patricio Bañados (renowned journalist banned from TV by the Junta), Sting, Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss, Sara Montiel, Robert Blake, Paloma San Basilio and Christopher Reeve starred in the No spots. One advert featured a middle-aged woman describing her experience of being kidnapped and tortured after the 1973 coup, and advocating a no vote, followed by her son Carlos Caszely, one of Chile's top footballers of the 1970s and 1980s,[8] and a critic of the Pinochet regime.[9]

The Yes campaign had two main goals: creating fear amongst voters by reminding them of the chaotic situation of Chile in 1973, with the consequent coup d'état (a background blamed on supporters of the No side), and improving the general perception of Augusto Pinochet, regarded by the public as an arrogant and authoritarian leader. The spots included jingles with lyrics supportive of the Junta and songs that were close to promoting a cult of personality around Pinochet, such as the main campaign anthem, "Un horizonte de esperanza" (A Horizon of Hope) or a Rapa Nui folk song, "Iorana, Presidente" (Hello, President), the latter of which was composed by then 8-year-old Laura Alarcón Rapu. In its early stages the campaign put its focus on the economic success achieved by the government, but when this failed to appeal to viewers, the strategy followed was to introduce criticism of the No adverts and the publication of polls that showed massive support for Pinochet, and a new look of the programmes starting in the 18 September broadcast, with the new format almost identical to those of the No – a presenter, Hernán Serrano, introduced each topic, and more testimonies were added.

Both sides called for massive rallies: on 22 September the No side started the March of Joy (Marcha de la alegría), which lasted 10 days and joined supporters from the northernmost and southernmost cities of Chile in Santiago.[10] These rallies were often stopped by the Carabineros or the secret police on claimed suspicion of possible attacks, or for no stated reason, and the demonstrators were attacked by armed pro-Yes supporters without the police taking any action. On 2 October the Yes campaign called for a huge rally in downtown Santiago. The rallies had different coverage by the news media, which struggled to show more Chileans standing for the Yes side than for the No, and were considered to be too close to the Yes campaign.

Electorate edit

Voting eligibility extended to individuals aged 18 or older on election day, who were either Chilean citizens or foreigners with legal residency in Chile for a minimum of five years. Only those listed on the electoral roll were permitted to vote, although registration was not obligatory. Registered Chilean citizens were required to participate in the voting process.

Results edit

Results by regions, provinces and communes
  Voted Yes
  Voted No
Choice Votes % Result
Yes 3,119,110 44.01
 N No 3,967,579 55.99 Proposal rejected
Valid votes 7,086,689 97.72
Null votes 94,594 1.30
Blank votes 70,660 0.97
Total votes 7,251,943 100
Registered voters 7,429,404 97.61% turnout
Voting-age population 8,193,683 88.51% turnout

Source: Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones.

Result by regions edit

Region «Yes» % «No» %
I Tarapacá 75,849 44.71 93,800 55.29
II Antofagasta 84,259 39.32 130,052 60.68
III Atacama 49,400 43.84 63,293 56.16
IV Coquimbo 114,250 46.02 133,997 53.98
V Valparaíso 324,058 42.69 434,997 57.31
VI O'Higgins 164,430 44.08 208,574 55.92
VII Maule 220,742 48.83 231,348 51.17
VIII Biobío 409,513 44.71 506,513 55.29
IX Araucanía 220,090 54.05 187,071 45.95
X Los Lagos 242,457 50.15 240,984 49.85
XI Aysén 19,238 49.99 19,245 50.01
XII Magallanes 35,549 42.36 48,372 57.64
RM Santiago Metropolitan 1,159,275 40.98 1,669,333 59.02
Total: 7,086,689 3,119,110 44.01 3,967,579 55.99

Aftermath edit

Members of the Government Junta in 1985 from left to right: Rodolfo Stange, José Toribio Merino, Augusto Pinochet, Fernando Matthei, and César Benavides. Stange, Merino and Matthei were crucial in resisting Pinochet's self-coup attempt after losing the vote.

In the wake of his electoral defeat, Pinochet attempted to implement a plan for an auto-coup.[11] The results of the vote were delayed, and reporting of results ceased on election night.[12] He sought to orchestrate chaos and violence in the streets to justify his power grab. However, the Carabinero police, led by General Director Rodolfo Stange, refused an order to lift the cordon against street demonstrations in the capital.[11] The Air Force chief, General Fernando Matthei, was the first member of the junta to publicly admit to the press, while entering La Moneda to meet Pinochet, that Pinochet had lost the plebiscite.

In his final move, Pinochet summoned his junta to a meeting at La Moneda, during which he requested extraordinary powers to have the military seize the capital. General Matthei refused, stating that he would not agree to such a thing under any circumstances, tearing up a document that would authorize Pinochet's emergency powers. The rest of the junta, consisting of Stange and Navy chief Admiral José Toribio Merino, followed this stance, arguing that Pinochet had already had his turn and lost.[13] Without any support from the junta, Pinochet was forced to accept the result.

The other junta members, who had preferred a civilian to run for president instead of Pinochet, regarded the result as Pinochet's personal defeat.[6] Pinochet and opposition forces agreed to revise the 1980 Constitution. The 54 proposed amendments were approved by 91% of voters in a referendum on 30 July 1989. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place as scheduled on 14 December 1989. The opposition candidate, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, won the election with 55% of the vote and took office on 11 March 1990. The newly elected Congress was sworn in on the same day.

Popular culture edit

The 2012 film No presented a fictionalized account of the "No" television campaign. It was the first Chilean film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.

See also edit

Further reading edit

References edit

  1. ^ "BBC News - Chile court confirms Salvador Allende committed suicide". Bbc.co.uk. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b "CIA Activities in Chile". Cia.gov. Archived from the original on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  3. ^ "A Country Study: Chile". United States Library of Congress.
  4. ^ "El Fraude: Claudio Fuentes S. Presentó libro sobre plebiscito de la Constitución de 1980".
  5. ^ Nohlen, p. 268
  6. ^ a b Angell, Alan; Pollack, Benny (1990). "The Chilean Elections of 1989". Bulletin of Latin American Research. 9 (1). Society for Latin American Studies: 1–23. doi:10.2307/3338214. JSTOR 3338214.
  7. ^ Daniel Labarca (19 July 2013). "Pugnas internas y denuncias de fraude provocan ruptura en partido de ex DC". La Tercera. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  8. ^ Edwards, Lee (2001). Mediapolitik: How the Mass Media Have Transformed World Politics. Washington D.C.: CUA Press. pp. 242–243. ISBN 9780813209920. Retrieved 3 July 2014. carlos caszely pinochet no.
  9. ^ Gilles Perez and Gilles Rof. Football Rebels: Caszely and the demise of Allende (Television production). Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  10. ^ "El plebiscito que cambió la historia de Chile | Periódico Diagonal". www.diagonalperiodico.net (in Spanish). Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  11. ^ a b Spooner, Mary Helen. The General's Slow Retreat: Chile After Pinochet. pp. 18–21. ISBN 9780520266803.
  12. ^ Spooner, Mary Helen. The General's Slow Retreat: Chile After Pinochet. p. 19. ISBN 9780520266803.
  13. ^ "Chilean Junta Meeting" (PDF). Department of Defense. IIR 6 817 0058 89. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 September 2022.

External links edit