Constitutional Process CULTURE

The Referendum TV Campaigns: 1988 vs. 2020

On Oct. 25 Chileans will participate in a historic vote that will decide the fate of the 1980 Chilean Constitution. Some have pointed out the ideological similarities between the current plebiscite and the 1988 referendum. Looking at them side by side, we can see how TV campaigns have evolved over time.

On Sunday Oct. 25, Chile will decide whether it wants a new constitution. This upcoming plebiscite is the result of the Oct. 18, 2019 social protests through which Chileans showed their discontent over a CLP$30 hike in the subway fare and the rising cost of living.

With the plebiscite soon to decide the fate of the 1980 Pinochet-era Constitution, some have pointed out the ideological similarities between this vote and the 1988 referendum in which Chileans decided wherever Pinochet would remain in power.

The 32 years between both events, however, have rendered vastly different results, mainly due to the vastly different social and political contexts that have evolved over the past 30 years of democratic government.

1988: Sí versus No

The 1988 referendum was to decide wherever Dictator Agusto Pinochet would continue in power after seizing it by force in 1973. Voters had two choices: SÍ, to let Pinochet remain as head of government until 1997; or No, for a return to democracy in 1990.

For the first time since the 1973 parliamentary elections, the Chilean Electoral Service allowed political parties to reform and hold campaigns. It also proved historic because, for the first time in Chilean history, each side was allotted 15 minutes of public television airtime to campaign.

The majority of the parties that opposed the Pinochet regime united in the Concertación coalition under the image of a rainbow, with the colors representing each party involved: Cristian Democrats were blue, the Humanist party was orange, the Communist party was red, etc. Having refused to participate in the plebiscite, the Socialist party was the only one absent.

To head the No campaign, the Concertación hired publicist Eugenio García to be creative director, who decided that instead of leading an attack campaign against the dictatorship, they would use unity and optimism to sell their message. They even created a catchy jingle to remove the negativity from the word “No.” They also called upon international celebrities like Jane Fonda and Cristopher Reeves.

Meanwhile, the Sí campaign was headed by Argentinian publicist Marcelo López and included members of the armed forces and future politicians like Joaquín Lavín. In an attempt to soften Pinochet’s image and highlight the failures of the Allende presidency, their campaign ads showcased patriotic songs that worshiped Pinochet’s actions during the past years. Their ads also included notable Chilean personalities like Patricia Maldonado and Katherine Salosny.

On Sep. 5, 1988, Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN) broadcast both campaigns nationwide, revealing the clear superiority of the No campaign. As a result, the Sí campaign completely changed its campaign to imitate the No campaign.

Both were aired uncensored except for Sep. 12 when the No campaign was prohibited from showing an interview of Judge García Villegas in which he mentioned the human rights abuses committed under Pinochet’s regime. On that day, the Sí campaign also pulled its ads on Sep. 13, in an act of fairness.

In their last broadcast on Oct. 1, the Sí campaign aired a 10-minute interview of Pinochet, in which he expressed his wish that Chileans not go astray from the path he had laid out for them. In contrast, the opposition had the spokesman for the Concertación, Patricio Aylwin, say a few words on the upcoming vote, and blacklisted journalist Patricio Bañados, who had been the presenter of the ads, also sign off and urge citizens to vote No.

On Oct. 5, No won the referendum and its campaign is still considered to be one of the finest political campaigns in political advertising history, with its storyline being the basis for the 2012 movie No by Pablo Larrain.

2020:  Apruebo vs. Rechazo

After over 30 years, Chile is on the eve of another plebiscite. This one will decide the fate of the 1980 Constitution. Created by the Pinochet government, the document has been dubbed the last remaining legacy of Pinochet. This time, voters will choose between Apruebo and Rechazo. If the former wins, a process for a new constitution will follow, while, if the latter wins,  the current constitution will remain unchanged.

Some have attempted to draw comparisons between the 2020 and 1988 campaigns. However, there are many notable differences. The most remarkable is that the current choice is not spearheaded by two united fronts; instead, each side is fragmented into various different groups. The campaigns also take into account civilian groups like Chile Digno and Evangelicals for the Rechazo.

The TV time allotments are also different. Each option gets seven-and-a-half minutes, with the different parties and sub-options being given a designated amount of time within that sum based on the number of members in the party or coalition. This has led to some ridiculously small time allotments. For example, the Cristian Democrats have one minute and 23 seconds, while the Republican Party has only 5 seconds.

The Rechazo campaign has primarily been focusing on the violence that has been ongoing since Oct. 18, 2019 and using testimony from many small business owners that saw their stores were looted and burned down, while also showing how the social unrest disrupted education. Another strategy has been to highlight the anonymity of the vote, and that no one has to know that they voted Rechazo.

Meanwhile, the Apruebo activists have been using testimony of victims who claim they suffered police brutality during the protests as well as insisting on the need to change the country for the better. The Apruebo has had an advantage over the Rechazo in the sense that they have had the support of known national artists like Sebastián Leilo.

The most Notable campaign ad was one that revisited characters from famous Chilean telenovelas and TV shows while showing their support for a new constitution.

Edited by Claudio Moraga

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