President Augusto Pinochet won 67 percent of the vote in yesterday's referendum on his draft constitution, according to final results released by his government today.
Despite the 2-1 victory, opposition leaders noted that they had increased their margin of dissent in the face of sharp restrictions on their access to the electorate. In a similar yes-no plebiscite posed by Gen. Pinochet in 1978, the official results showed 75 percent backing him.
[In Washington, a State Department spokesman declared: "We regret the lack of equitable access for opponents to the means of communications and the repeated government intimidation of opponents. We do not believe that the plebiscite in its substance or process gave meaningful choices to the voters. We continue to hope that the Chilean people will be able to enjoy full democracy soon. Neither this plebiscite nor the transition provisions (of the constitution) advance this objective."]
Following up a victory speech last night, Pinochet held a press conference today, where he was asked to comment on U.S. relations. He replied, "I would only say one thing: Leave us in peace. Let us work in peace.
"We helped the United States greatly. It didn't cost the United States a single dollar or bullet and not one life to drive the communists out of Chile. When we need something they strike us instead of helping us."
Pinochet, in his victory speech, made a seemingly conciliatory reference to the opposition. Since seizing power in a coup years ago, he has regularly denounced the Marxist parties that ruled before him -- and which are outlawed under the constitution now due to take effect in March. Recently he has even more firmly denounced the officially suspended Christian Democratic Party that led opposition to the draft charter.
Nevertheless, in his speech last night, Pinochet, 64, told supporters that they should join with his adversaries in a civil-military movement to support his rule in the eight-year term that is to keep the president in power at least until 1989. Christian Democrats promptly vowed to continue their opposition.
Under terms of the plebiscite dictated by the government, blank votes counted as votes for the Pinochet draft.
The final vote total was given as 4.2 million, or 67 percent, for the constitution and 1.9 million, or 30 percent, opposed. Election officials said 6.27 million of an eligible 6.75 million voters cast ballots, but 173,705 were ruled invalid.
A statement issued by the Christian Democratic Party accused the government of rigging the election and called the Pinochet constitution "an affront." But former president Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, and other opponents of the junta remained silent.
A Christian Democrat close to Frei, who asked not to be named, said, "We were surprised and saddened by the results. But there's no doubt who won. Even if you allow 10 percent for fraud, Pinochet still gets more than half the votes."
Observers of the voting process noted numerous irregularities yesterday but there was no clear indication today to what extent they might have affected the final results.
The Christian Democrats said the party would not cease efforts to restore democracy to Chile, and repeated their call for a dialogue leading to a transitional government of civilians and members of the armed forces.
In contrast to the Pinochet constitution's provision for an 18-year transition period, however, the Christian Democrats seek a return to Chile's traditional democracy in three years.
Some political analysts said the Christian Democrats had used similar tactics against the government of Marxist president Salvador Allende, who died in the 1973 coup.
They said Frei, who led the campaign against the plebiscite, had encouraged the anti-Allende coup in the hope the armed forces would later hand over power to non-Marxist parties. The Christian Democrats had been the largest single party for a decade prior to the coup, ruling from 1964 to 1970.
Pinochet has withstood pressure from politicians for a switch to civilian rule or any change in the direction of his right-wing government.
Pinochet moderate victory speech could indicate his disagreement, at least for the moment, with supporters who have proposed continuation of the government's strong-armed repression.
At the press conference, Pinochet made his first attempt to clarify what would have happened should he have lost the plebiscite.
"The military government would have had to continue on for a short time, elections of certain persons would have been called and we would have returned to the barracks," he said.