The 1980 Constitution
At the height of the economic boom, the regime moved to legitimize and regularize its reforms and its tenure. Its new "constitution of liberty" was approved in a controlled plebiscite in 1980, in which the government claimed to have received 67 percent of the vote. Both leftists and Christian Democrats had called for a no vote. Because there were no safeguards for the opposition or for the balloting, most analysts expressed doubts about the government's percentage and assumed that the constitution may have won by a lesser margin. According to the new constitution, Pinochet would remain president through 1989; a plebiscite in 1988 would determine if he would have an additional eight years in office. The document provided for military domination of the government both before and after the 1988 plebiscite.
The constitution's approval marked the institutionalization of Pinochet's political system. In the eyes of the military, a dictatorship had now been transformed into an authoritarian regime, rule by exception having been replaced by the rule of law. When the new charter took effect in 1981, the dictatorship was at the peak of its powers, politically untouchable and economically successful. At that moment, few would have predicted that the dispirited and fragmented opposition would take power by the end of the decade.
The imposition of the authoritarian constitution cast further gloom on the divided and dejected opposition. The PCCh now made a historic reversal, claiming that all forms of struggle, including armed insurrection, were justified against the dictatorship. Most political parties on the left or in the center, however, continued searching for a peaceful path to redemocratization.
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