Foreign Observers Say Referendum Seemed Fair and Open With AM-Chile, Bjt
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Foreign observers of Wednesday’s presidential referendum said it appeared to be open and honest but could have been better organized.
″People came by bus. They walked. They waited in line for four hours. They voted,″ Manuel Medina, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, told an afternoon news conference.
Oswaldo Hurtado, former president of Ecuador, said: ″What I have seen is Chileans being able to cast their votes freely and in private″ on whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who seized power in 1973, should have another eight- year term as president.
″Some polling stations were badly organized. Some opened late and consequently will have to remain open longer this evening, but in general ... it has gone rather well,″ said Johanna May Weggen, a European Parliament delegate from the Netherlands.
Opposition groups fearful of fraud by the government, had urged foreign dignitaries to monitor the vote. More than 500 politicians, diplomats and a few celebrities - including Nicaraguan actress Bianca Jagger - chose to do so.
Former presidents Adolfo Suarez of Spain and Misael Pastrana of Colombia, and Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona, led a 60-member delegation of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs based in Washington, D.C.
They visited polling stations in Santiago and 10 other cities but said they would not comment formally until a news conference scheduled for Friday.
Some delegation members said privately they thought the vote was free and open, and expected the tally also would be. They said civilians, police and military guards at the polling stations were friendly and helpful.
The Puebla Institute, a Roman Catholic human rights group based in Washington, reported signs of government-sponsored harassment in recent days, such as a mass mailing apparently intended to mislead voters into invalidating their registration cards.
After touring polling stations Wednesday, however, the institute issued a statement saying:
″Despite a climate of intimidation, assorted dirty tricks by government supporters, extended delays in opening some polling places, long lines to vote and other irregularities, Chileans in great numbers turned out to vote today.
″Chileans are taking the first real step toward democracy in 15 years. We have heard much about Chile’s ‘economic miracle’. Today, we are witnessing the start of a ‘democracy miracle’.″