Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Struggling Chilean conservatives pick female candidate

Reuters, SANTIAGO

Chile’s weakened conservative Independent Democratic Union Party (UDI) on Saturday said it has picked Chilean Minister of Labor Evelyn Matthei as its new candidate for the November presidential election, which former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is expected to win.

Matthei steps in after the right-wing party’s former candidate, Pablo Longueira, unexpectedly quit the campaign on Wednesday due to depression, sending the bloc into disarray.

Longueira had launched his campaign after the right’s previous favorite, Laurence Golborne, dropped his bid in April because of a scandal from his time as chief executive officer of retailer Cencosud.

“These are difficult times,” UDI president Patricio Melero said during a news conference. “We think Matthei is a winning candidate.”

An economist known for her blunt style, Matthei is a seasoned member of the party.

Chile has never had two female presidential front-runners.

Bachelet, who was Chile’s first female president, is expected to easily beat Matthei in the Nov. 17 general election or a potential Dec. 15 runoff. Her approval ratings hover near 75 percent, compared with about 34 percent for Matthei, according to a survey conducted by pollster CEP between November and December last year, which was the most recent such poll.

Pediatrician-turned-politician Bachelet has promised to tackle Chile’s steep inequality by raising corporate taxes to work toward funding free university-level education. She also wants to legalize abortion in some cases and reform the dictatorship-era constitution.

While Matthei’s program has not been unveiled yet, she has broadly backed conservative Chilean President Sebastian Pinera’s economic policies and said she is against free university-level education and in favor of legalizing abortion in certain cases.

Bachelet and Matthei reportedly have known each other since childhood, as both their fathers were air force generals.

However, Bachelet’s father was loyal to former socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was removed in a 1973 military coup that ushered in the brutal 17-year dictatorship of former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet. He was subsequently arrested and tortured by Pinochet’s agents and died in prison months later. By contrast, Matthei’s father was a member of the junta.

The center-right National Renewal Party (RN) has not officially announced whether it will rally behind Matthei or send its own candidate into the general election, which could further split the right-wing Alliance coalition.

However, the RN’s former candidate, Andres Allamand, who narrowly lost to Longueira in the June 30 primaries, has indicated he would only revive his campaign if he were the bloc’s sole runner.

While Bachelet is expected to easily trounce rivals, analysts say the right could suffer an even sharper presidential defeat if it fails to settle on one candidate.

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