President Augusto Pinochet, acknowledging that "we are passing through a difficult stage" in his nine-year-old government, rejected proposals today for an accelerated transition to democracy and announced the first steps in the implementation of a limited new political system.
Pinochet, in a policy address marking the second anniversary of a constitution drawn up by his government, said he would appoint a commission to prepare new laws called for in that charter to create a "protected" democracy. The first of these statutes would create councils for local government up to the regional level that would be selected in part through democratic processes.
The 67-year-old authoritarian, who is scheduled to rule until at least 1989 under the mandate of his own constitution, also announced a new "emergency plan" for Chile's economy, which is suffering the most severe recession in nearly half a century. He mentioned no details of the plan, however, other than scheduling of three pay raises for workers in April, September and November.
The president's announcements appear designed to satisfy conservative political sectors and business groups who recently have grown critical of Pinochet after many years of strong support.
Right-wing political sectors who helped draw up the 1980 constitution in recent months have complained that Pinochet has taken no steps to put into effect the political transition outlined in the document.
In addition, business groups, hit hard by a recession that caused a 15 percent drop in Chile's national product last year, have pressured for changes in the government's free-market economic program and for state aid to ailing companies.
Pinochet promised today that steps would be taken to reactivate national industry and create new jobs. The unemployment rate is close to 25 percent. He did not respond to business pressure for larger state economic measures, however, and reiterated his intention to preserve conservative economic policies.
Despite weeks of anticipation surrounding today's address, Pinochet signaled no dramatic changes in his government or its political orientation. Instead, he reiterated his determination to remain in power and sharply rejected recent proposals by a variety of political groups for an accelerated move toward democracy for the transfer of power to a junta of military leaders.
"I signal that those who try to change the mandate we have. . .will have to attend to the consequences," he warned. "Those who are asking today for a consensus to do the minimum to advance to institutionalization of democracy are ignoring the majority."
Pinochet also sharply attacked Chile's political parties, which though still officially proscribed have resumed some activity. He stressed that the new political system planned in the constitution is "completely different" from what they represent.
"On numerous occasions I have pointed out that the democracy that has been approved cannot be confused with the traditional democracy that we knew until 1970," Pinochet said, referring to the year in which Socialist Salvador Allende was elected. Pinochet ousted him in a coup three years later.
Pinochet "was obliged to recognize a very strong pressure from an opposition which has presented a plan," said Manuel Garreton, a political scientist and representative of the Socialist Convergence movement. "In effect this gave legitimacy to the opposition that he hasn't recognized before."