Chilean constitutional referendum, 1980

Original ballot
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A constitutional referendum was held in Chile on 11 September 1980.[1] The proposed new constitution would replace the 1925 constitution, and was approved by over two-thirds of voters.[2]

The new constitution ensured that Augusto Pinochet could remain as President of the Republic for a further eight years with increased powers, after which he would face a re-election referendum. Further reforms, beginning in 1989 and most recently in 2005, have attempted to make the constitution more democratic.

Electoral system

In the election, Chileans older than 18 years of age (including the illiterate and blind), as well as foreigners with legal residence in Chile older than 18 years of age who could prove their proper immigration status, were allowed to vote. Participation was obligatory except for those who were physically or mentally impaired or imprisoned.

To vote, the only document required was a certificate of identity issued by the Civil and Identification Registry Service. No electoral roll was prepared for the referendum.[2]

New constitution

The proposed new constitution gave the position of President of the Republic significant powers. It created some new institutions, such as the Constitutional Tribunal and the controversial National Security Council (COSENA). In its temporary dispositions, the document ordered the transition from the former military government, with Augusto Pinochet as President of the Republic, and the Legislative Power of the Military Junta (formed by the heads of the Navy, Air Force, National Police, and a representative of the Army, the head of the Army being president of the republic), to a civil one, with a time frame of eight years, during which the legislative power would still be the Military Junta. It set the first eight-year presidential term for Pinochet, with a referendum in the eighth year, in which only one candidate, nominated by the Junta, would be up for acceptance.

The candidate, as expected, was Pinochet himself. While the steps to follow in the case of a triumph of the "yes" option, which the document clearly anticipated, were clearly delineated, the steps for the "no" triumph were less clear but still clear enough that no serious doubt emerged when the "no" option actually was victorious in the 1988 referendum.

Some of the 1980 constitution's original dispositions, such as the presidential power of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress) and serving eight-year terms with possibility of re-election, were modified or eliminated after 1990, when the country regained its democracy and the Congress was re-established.


The results supplied by the Colegio Escrutador Nacional (National Election Observer Association) were as follows.

Option Votes %[3]
"Yes" votes 4,121,067 65.71%
Blank votes 83,812 1.33%
"Yes" total[4] 4,204,879 67.04%
"No" votes 1,893,420 30.19%
Invalid votes 173,569 2.77%
Total votes cast 6,271,868 100%


1980 constitution

The results of the referendum approved the Constitution of 1980. However, the given results were objected to by the political opposition, headed by the ex-senator Patricio Aylwin and more than 46 others, arguing that this result did not tally with electoral records. One objection was that voters were only marked by ink on the thumb, which came off rapidly, making electoral fraud easy. These criticisms were rejected by the Scrutiny Association, and the Constitution was promulgated on 21 October 1980.

The new constitution took effect on 11 March 1981. On this date a transition period of eight years began, during which General Pinochet, acting as President of the Republic and the Military Regime (Junta), exercised constituent and legislative power.


  1. Nohlen, D (2005) Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume II, p262 ISBN 978-0-19-928358-3
  2. 1 2 Nohlen, p268
  3. Percent of the total votes cast.
  4. The blank votes were counted in favor of the "Yes" option.

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