THE "YES" vote in the plebiscite on its new constitution was 70 percent, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile declares. But perhaps the real tally was 70 percent. Who's to say?Gen. Pinochet ran his little charade in a way to guarantee that the results would be suspect. Wide and intimidating publicity was given, for instance, to a driver arrested for displaying a "no" bumper sticker. In the two-month run-up to the plebiscite, Amnesty International reported, there were sharp increases in arbitrary arrests and cases of torture. There was no independent audit of either the balloting or the counting. Abstentions were counted as "yes."
The new constitution, though it is a carefully wrought instrument of "protected democracy," is not to take effect for five years. Meanwhile, Gen. Augusto Pinochet is offered a second eight-year term as president and, if he is up to it, another term after that. His junta is to act as a legislature through the 1980s and then a tame elected legislature gets to take over. The general is 65, and he obviously has in mind a system that will reflect his strong hand even when he is not around to lift it. His effort to gain popular legitimacy for personal rule is in the classic fascist tradition.
It begs belief that the Pinochet system will work and last as he intends. Traumatized as Chileans were by the disintegration before 1973 and the repression after, they have not lost the qualities that had made Chile one of the most vibrant and intensely political societies in the world. Indeed, even within the Pinochet straitjacket, Chileans sabotaged the regime's effort to intimidate and manipulate them by rendering fewer "yes" votes in this plebiscite than in the last in 1978. The Pinochet strategy is bound to fail. It is producing counterviolence that will increasingly have the tolerance if not the active sympathy of other people. The peaceable majority of Chileans will continue to find ways to press their evident longing for a quick return to democracy.