SANTIAGO, OCT. 6 (THURSDAY) -- Gen. Augusto Pinochet's bid for eight more years in power ended in defeat today, as a united opposition beat him soundly in a presidential plebiscite of Pinochet's own design.
After a long night in which the opposition continued to announce returns showing a 60-percent vote against Pinochet and the government gave out practically no totals at all, a government spokesman announced early this morning that with three-fourths of the vote officially counted, Pinochet was losing with 53 percent of voters rejecting him. There would be no further vote totals until midday, he said.
Later, Interior Minister Sergio Fernandez, who had run Pinochet's campaign, announced that the regime would recognize the results of the vote, which he characterized as still provisional. Because of the democratic process that had transpired, "the great winner is the country," Fernandez said. Pinochet himself made no statement.
Pinochet, in the plebiscite held under terms of a constitution he proposed and won approval for in 1980, had stood as the junta's sole candidate for an eight-year presidential term. His defeat means that he serves for another year and a half, after which he must call free presidential elections.
Shortly before 1 a.m. (midnight EST), Pinochet convened a meeting of the governing junta and his Cabinet in the presidential palace, the Moneda, which was bombed in the bloody Sept. 11, 1973, coup in which Pinochet took power. On his way into the meeting, one member of the junta, Air Force Gen. Fernando Matthei, told reporters that Pinochet had lost. "Really, for me, it's clear enough," Matthei said.
About an hour later, the junta members left the palace through an underground exit, Pinochet remained in the palace with his ministers and his spokesman announced the government's defeat.
Long before the government began acknowledging the defeat, its extent had been known, primarily because of the opposition's vote totals that were based on official voting documents. Prominent opponents and supporters of Pinochet had already appeared on television discussing the shaping of a new political reality in Chile.
The opposition, which found a new unity in the fight for a "no" vote for Pinochet in the plebiscite, now faces the task of trying to stay together to demand changes in the constitution that would allow a faster return to full democracy. But the opposition will have to negotiate any changes with Pinochet and the armed forces, and will have to avoid the internecine fights it suffered in the past.
Yesterday's plebiscite was the first free balloting in Chile since Pinochet took power 15 years ago. Chileans, with a strong democratic heritage, went to the polls enthusiastically and in great numbers to exercise their suffrage after such a long interlude.
The opposition called on Chileans to remain calm while the count was finished. Santiago's streets were practically deserted last night, and police reported only minor incidents.
About 7.4 million Chileans had registered to participate in the plebiscite, and the opposition estimated a turnout of more than 90 percent. Yesterday, however, opposition leaders worried about the process of releasing vote totals.
Subsecretary of the Interior Alberto Cardemil, the government's designated spokesman, first appeared at about 7:30 p.m., an hour and a half later than expected, and released totals based on less than one-half of one percent of the vote. It was more than two hours before he reappeared with his next totals.
At one point, the government television station broke off its live broadcast from the government building where Cardemil was giving his announcements to show an episode of the American television series, "Moonlighting." Other stations, belonging to state-controlled universities, remained on the air and featured brief appearances by opposition figures.
Cardemil's figures included practically no results from the Santiago metropolitan area. Pinochet had been expected to lose heavily in the capital but to do better in rural areas and small towns.
Pinochet's only comment on the vote was that it had been conducted peacefully. He also spoke of reports of armed groups seen on the streets, but he did not elaborate.
The campaign battle between supporters of a "yes" vote for Pinochet and those who supported a "no" was a bitter one. But early voting was peaceful, a shared experience that provided remarkable scenes of a nation re-encountering its past and relishing the expression of its public will.
The tranquility was particularly welcome after a tense night of blackouts Tuesday that affected a broad central swath of the country, including metropolitan Santiago. There was an almost palpable sense of relief as the voting tables opened roughly on schedule yesterday morning.
One of the polling places was the National Stadium in Santiago, where thousands had been assembled for arrest, execution or exile after the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power. Thousands formed neat lines in the parking lot, with women on one side and men on the other, and made their way slowly to the tables where they cast their ballots.
"Fifteen years," said Alfonso Solis, 44. "Fifteen years without voting. We've been hungry for this."
Before the 1973 coup, Chile had Latin America's longest and strongest democratic tradition. The Pinochet regime held a 1978 "consultation" on the question of its legitimacy and one previous plebiscite -- a much criticized 1980 vote up or down on a constitution written by a commission that Pinochet appointed. That time, campaigning of the sort preceding yesterday's vote was not allowed. The authoritarian constitution, as approved, enabled the plebiscite.
"This is a tremendous satisfaction to return to this, to return to democracy," said Hector Caballo, a 64-year-old retiree. "One got used to this a long time ago." Past votes involved a multitude of parties, usually in coalition, offering legislative and presidential slates.
In Lo Hermida, one of the slums that ring Santiago, thousands of men were waiting in the courtyard of the local school when the voting tables opened just after the scheduled hour of 8 a.m.
All campaign activity was prohibited on election day, and it was a crime even to wear a "yes" or "no" button. But Lo Hermida was clearly "no" country. Residents indicated their preferences as they walked toward the polls, wagging their forefingers back and forth -- a trademark gesture of the "no" campaign.
In Lo Hermida, as at other polling places around Santiago, entrances were guarded by the national police. Inside, security was provided by other branches of the armed forces -- the Army, in the case of Lo Hermida. Neighborhood residents reported that other military units were deployed in the area but well out of sight and uninvolved in the voting process.
There were reports of irregularities in some other poor areas. A women's polling place opened late, and officials lost control as the women pressed together in a disorganized crowd instead of in the neat lines seen at other locations.
Opposition parties, previously caught in a routine of factional squabbling, joined together in an alliance called the Command for the No to oppose Pinochet in the vote. The strength and durability of the coalition surprised observers, as did the professionalism of the campaign it waged.
During the campaign, Pinochet lifted all states of emergency for the first time in 15 years, ended forced exile and allowed the opposition unprecedented access to television -- measures that had been demanded by the predominant Roman Catholic Church, human rights groups and the international community.
Population: 12.5 million
Area: 286,396 square miles
History: Chile was ruled in the north by the Incas until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century; Araucanian Indians in the south fought the Spanish until late in the 19th century. Independence was proclaimed in 1818. Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific, gaining a third of its present territory in the mineral-rich north.
Geography: 2,650 miles north to south but averaging only 110 miles wide, Chile is bounded by Peru and Bolivia in the north and Argentina to the west across the formidable Andes range. In area it is larger than Texas. Its Pacific Coast, heavily indented in the south, stretches 4,000 miles from the Peruvian border to Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn.
People: The population is 65 percent Spanish-Indian descent, 30 percent Spanish or European, and less than 1 percent Indian. Literacy is 90 percent. More than a third of the population lives in the capital.
Government: Salvador Allende, elected the continent's first Marxist president in 1970, died in a 1973 coup. Gen. Augusto Pinochet succeeded Allende and was sworn in for a second eight-year term March 11, 1981. The March 1981 constitution provides for military rule until 1989, when a presidential election is to start a phased restoration of civilian rule by 1997.
Economy: With one-fifth of the world's copper reserves, Chile also is rich in other minerals, including gold and silver. It has expanded forestry, agriculture and fishing industries to broaden the economy. Chile's chief trading partner is the United States. Chilean per capita annual income is $1,550.
U.S. relations: In a policy reversal, the United States in March 1986 severely criticized the Pinochet goverment's human rights record and failure to investigate "many recent cases of kidnapping and torture." The U.S. move closely followed similar criticisms that resulted the previous month in the ousters of the Duvalier government in Haiti and of Marcos in the Philippines, prompting speculation the Reagan administration was actively seeking a change of government in Santiago.
SOURCE: United Press International