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Chilean presidential debate first round favors under-dog Matthei

Monday, December 9th 2013 - 14:09 UTC
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A survey conducted by La Tercera also put Matthei as the winner of the debate, with approximately 70% of the voters saying she did better than Bachelet. A survey conducted by La Tercera also put Matthei as the winner of the debate, with approximately 70% of the voters saying she did better than Bachelet.

Evelyn Matthei of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) and Michelle Bachelet of the left-leaning Socialist Party (PS) partook in their opening head-to-head presidential debate, as for the first campaign in Latin American history two women compete against each other in a presidential election second round.

 Transmitted on Friday by the Association of Radio Broadcasters (Archi) in the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM), the debate lasted for one hour. But while the previous encounter organized by Archi was marked by strong confrontation between the original nine presidential candidates, the two final contenders spent most of their allocated time in Friday’s debate answering journalists’ questions and avoiding direct debate.

Rodrigo Mardones, director of Universidad Católica’s Political Science Institute, said that the candidates appeared even throughout the debate, and explained to The Santiago Times why this means that the Alianza candidate was the victor on the day.

“The candidates seemed very similar, just based on watching their performance during the debate, it would seem like a tie,” Mardones said. “However, that ultimately means Matthei won. Even though there is such a large difference between candidates in terms support and all the polls indicate that Michelle Bachelet is going to win by a large amount, this amount was not visible in the debate.”

A survey conducted by La Tercera also put Matthei as the winner of the debate, with approximately 70% of the voters saying she did better than Bachelet.

While former president Bachelet reaffirmed the need for profound changes which she claims were not feasible during her first mandate between 2006 and 2010, Matthei reasserted her position of continuing the incumbent Alianza’s agenda.

“I am not in favor of a large ideological change because we are on the right track. What we are going to do is make the necessary changes,” Matthei said.

The two candidates discussed the main issues which have so far dominated the campaign, including a new constitution, education and tax reform.

Tax and government funding

While Bachelet promises a thorough reform of the current tax system, considered by her coalition as regressive and unfair, Matthei has often warned against the danger of implementing such change, which she claims would slow down Chile’s economy and impede the country’s growth and development.

One of the few confrontations of the debate occurred when Bachelet questioned the feasibility of Matthei’s proposals on the subject, saying that without a tax reform the Alianza candidate would not have a new source of income to finance any of her projects.

“There is no way that Matthei’s program can be put in place without tax reform,” Bachelet said.

Matthei responded that tax reform was not the only way to finance public spending, emphasizing that economic growth could be an important source of income. She also deflected a comment from the press gallery, noting predictions of a cooling economy due to a decrease in copper prices.

“The slowdown of the economy does not have any effect on the budget for the next year,” Matthei replied.

The Constitution

Another topic on which the candidates took markedly opposing positions was on what to do with the Constitution, authored under dictatorship in 1980.

In the debate, the two candidates reiterated their proposals on the subject, Bachelet stating the need for a new constitution and Matthei defending small-scale reforms of the existing document.

However, Bachelet did not firmly outline how she would go about changing the constitution, declining to side with advocates for a constitutional assembly or those who would call on a panel of experts.

“There are different mechanisms, but we are looking for a speedy resolution,” Bachelet said. “I don’t have any prejudice against a constitutional assembly, but I don't want to spend two or three years discussing how to establish it.”

Higher education

In light of the massive student protests that have gripped the nation since 2011, education reform has become one of the most contentious topics in the race toward presidency. Bachelet supports student demands for a free universal public education system, while Matthei says she does not support the state paying for the “children of the rich” to study.

After Bachelet presented her government program Oct. 27, Matthei criticized the proposed reforms of the Nueva Mayoría candidate by comparing them to the divided Germany, as opposed to her own government program which she likened to Angela Merkel’s Germany.

When it was pointed out during the debate that Merkel’s Germany enjoys free universal education, Matthei responded by emphasizing the differences between the countries.

“It’s something that depends on the amount of money and the necessity,” Matthei said. “I would love [higher] education to be free for all … but today we still have many living in poverty. What is more important, getting people out of living in poverty or gifting education to the children of the rich? It’s a subject that I would love to endorse but, obviously, right now there are other priorities.”

Mardones told The Santiago times that Matthei got “caught in her own trap” with the German metaphor.

“I think it was a bad response; it completely ruined her comparison,” Mardones said. “It demonstrated that her comparison was not valid, she basically responded by saying, ‘when we are rich, then we will to do what Germany is doing now, like having free education.’”

The two candidates will meet again on Tuesday evening at 10:15 p.m. in a televised debate hosted by National Television Association (ANATEL).

By Clémence Douchez-Lortet ( and Katie Steefel (
Copyright 2013 — The Santiago Times

Top Comments

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  • ChrisR

    Cat fight, eh!

    Seems to be all hissing and spitting but no fur or blood flying.

    Abought right for politicians of any country. They can talk the talk but they have no feet.

    Dec 09th, 2013 - 03:20 pm 0
  • Heisenbergcontext

    I am puzzled by Ms Matthei's statement that she doesn't support the state paying for the “children of the rich”. In my experience, regardless of where they live, wealthy people are always more likely to send their children to fee-paying schools. Did she mean tertiary education? In that context the statement makes some sense.

    Free tertiary education is indeed most likely to favour those who can most easily pay for it, and would be very expensive, but free primary and secondary is a more than worthy aspiration and an excellent investment in the future. And given the size and intensity of the protests I can't see any way that this will not become official policy. But then I'm not privy to the subtleties of the Chilean political landscape.

    Dec 09th, 2013 - 03:40 pm 0
  • Think

    (2) Heisenbergcontext

    You say...:
    Did she mean tertiary education?
    I say...:
    Yes she did....
    Primary and secondary education (~12 years) are gratuite AND obligatory in Chile since 2003.... Tertiary education you pay for. (Dearly)

    Primary and secondary education (~12 years) are gratuite AND obligatory in Argentina for ages... Tertiary education is gratuite and voluntary.

    Dec 09th, 2013 - 05:27 pm 0
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