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The 1988 Chilean national plebiscite was a national referendum held on 5 October 1988 to determine whether de facto Chilean President, Gen. Augusto Pinochet should extend his rule for another eight years. The "No" side won with nearly 56% of the vote, thus ending the military's 16½ years in power.
Army General Augusto Pinochet took power on 11 September 1973 in a coup d'état which deposed the democratically-elected Socialist President Salvador Allende. Allende killed himself as the presidential palace was being bombarded. 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 and 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 established an advisory committee, which Pinochet was successful in staffing with Army officers loyal to himself. One of their first recommendations was to discard the idea of a rotating Presidency, arguing it would create too many administrative problems and lead to confusion. In March 1974, six months after the Junta’s establishment, Pinochet verbally attacked the Christian Democratic Party and stated that there was no set timetable for the return to civilian rule. On 18 December 1974 Pinochet was declared Supreme Leader of the nation. After that date, the junta functioned strictly as a legislative body until the return to democracy in 1990.
On 24 September 1973, a commission was set up by the junta to draw up a blueprint for a new constitution. By 5 October 1978, the commission had finished its work. During the next two years, the proposal was studied by the Council of State presided by former president Jorge Alessandri, and in July 1980 it submitted a Constitution draft to Pinochet and the Junta. A constitutional referendum, regarded as "highly irregular" and forthrightly "fraudulent" by some observers, took place on 11 September 1980, in which the new constitution was approved by 67% of voters. The Constitution, which took effect on 11 March 1981, established a "transition period," during which Pinochet would continue to exercise the executive power and the Junta the legislative power, for the next eight years. Before that period ended, a candidate for President was to be proposed by the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces and Carabinero Chief General for the following period of eight years. The candidate was to be ratified by registered voters in a national plebiscite. On 30 August 1988 Pinochet was declared to be the candidate.
The plebiscite —as detailed in the 1980 Constitution approved on 21 October 1980 and further legislation— 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 take place nine months after he is sworn in. The Junta continues to exercise the 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. Presidential and parliamentary elections take place three months before Pinochet's term expires. The newly elected President and Congress take office on 11 March 1990.
- 20px Chilean Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Chileno) (populist party created by pro-Junta factions to attract support for Pinochet disguised under the Socialist Party's banner)
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 spaces, or franjas, of 15 minutes each, late in the night or early in the morning. (There were similar spaces before, but these were granted only to the government). They were first broadcast 5 September, at 11 pm, just one month before the referendum.
In a short time the spots prepared by the No side were perceived as superior to those of the Yes; something ironic, as the Yes had created a more elaborated 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) was reported to say,
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 cheesy that even the Yes campaign creatives hummed it during their brainstorming sessions.
—Sergio Fernández, Minister of the Interior
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. The opposition 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 didn’t mean the return to the socialist system as championed by former President Salvador Allende, but the comeback of democracy. This idea was supported by the appearance of right-wing leaders standing for the No. A popular, cheesy 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, and a critic of the Pinochet regime.
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’etat (a background blamed on supporters of the No side), and renovating 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 or a Mapuche folk song, “Iorana, Presidente” (Hello, President). 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 a biased critic of the No adverts and the publication of polls that showed massive support for Pinochet, with a new look of the programmes, almost identical to those of the No – a presenter 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. These rallies were often stopped by the Carabineros or the secret police on the suspect of possible attacks, or mostly for no reason, and the demonstrators were attacked by armed pro-Yes supporters with any intervention by the police. On the 2nd of October the Yes campaign called for a huge rally in downtown Santiago. The rallies had different coverage by the media, which struggled to show more Chileans standing for the Yes side than for the No, and were considered to close the campaign.
Voting was open to persons over the age of 18 on the day of the election who were either Chilean citizens or foreigners residing legally in Chile for at least five years. Registration in the electoral roll was voluntary though a required step to vote in the plebiscite. Registration made the vote mandatory for Chilean citizens.
|| Proposal rejected
| Valid votes
| Null votes
| Blank votes
| Total votes
| Registered voters
|| 97.52% turnout
| Voting-age population
|| 88.50% turnout
Source: Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones.
Following his defeat at the polls, Pinochet and opposition forces agreed to revise the 1980 Constitution. The 54 proposed amendments were approved by 94% 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 that same day.
The 2012 film No presented a fictionalized account of the "No" television campaign. To date, it is the only Chilean film to have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.