SANTIAGO, Chile -- President Augusto Pinochet legalized non-leftist political parties Wednesday, but opponents charged the move was meaningless because of the continuing ban on leftists and the right-wing government's refusal to hold free elections.
'This is yet another demonstration of my government's democratic vocation,' said Pinochet in announcing the legalization of some political parties for the first time since he seized power in a military coup more than 13 years ago.
The law will allow centrist and right-wing parties, which have been operating openly without any legal basis, to conduct their activities legally. But left-wing parties will continue to be banned under Chile's 1980 Constitution, which bars Marxist-inspired parties.
Government officials claimed the measure was a 'historic' step towards restoring democracy, but opposition parties called the law 'anti-democratic' and designed to perpetuate Pinochet's rule because it failed to guarantee free elections.
The Democratic Alliance, the main centrist alliance, said it had not decided whether to legalize their organizations under the terms of the new party law.
'The law is essentially anti-democratic and denies the right of free association,' the coalition said in a statement. 'The country's main problem continues to be how to defeat the government's plans to perpetuate its dictatorship.'
'Pinochet's personal intransigence is the big obstacle (for a transition to democracy) and we are countering it with a campaign for competitive, free and clean elections,' the statement said.
Speaking to supporters after signing the law, Pinochet, a 71-year-old army general, vowed not to bow to pressure. The government, he said, will follow a schedule outlined in the Constitution, providing for a 'yes-or-no' vote in 1989 when a single candidate will be nominated by the ruling junta for an eight-year presidential term.
Political parties were banned by the military junta that seized power in the Sept. 11, 1973, overthrow of the Socialist government of former President Salvador Allende.
The new law establishes the minimum number of supporters required to form a political party, bans foreign financing and bars armed forces personnel from party membership.
The measure takes effect two weeks after the government opened voter registration offices across the country in an attempt to replace electoral rolls that were burned during the 1973 coup.
The Democratic Alliance instructed its supporters to register, arguing that new electoral rolls will be needed in the event free elections are held. But left-wing parties grouped in the Popular Democratic Movement called on their backers to boycott the registration.
'It is like having your name in the telephone directory without having the right to own a phone,' said movement leader Patricio Halles.