Chileans Vote in Primary Heralded by Pledges and Protests

Chileans are voting in a primary election that will probably confirm former leader Michelle Bachelet as the favorite for presidential elections in November, raising the prospect of higher taxes and spending.

Bachelet, who led Chile from 2006 to 2010, is expected to beat three other aspirants to become the opposition coalition’s candidate for the November vote, according to opinion polls. Andres Allamand is forecast to win the candidature for the ruling alliance. Voting started at 8 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m. with the result released within the next few days, according to Chile’s electoral service.

The primary has been heralded by a raft of policy pledges, with Bachelet promising increased spending on education and health services, and protests, as students demand improved education. To pay for her proposals, Bachelet backs raising the corporate tax rate by 5 percentage points and reducing the amount of money companies can put aside for future investments without paying tax. Candidates for the ruling coalition have promised to cut levies on gasoline.

“One outcome of the pre-electoral period has been myriad populist proposals from left to right,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Marcos Buscaglia wrote in a report June 25. “Most of the noise stems from the movement to the left of Bachelet.”

Bachelet’s presidential bid was backed by 43 percent of voters questioned by Diego Portales University in the month through April 3. The survey of 1,200 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Asked which opposition alliance candidate they would vote for in the primary, 76 percent said Bachelet.

A poll by MORI of 1,200 people between June 7 and 20 gave Bachelet at least 75 percent of the opposition bloc vote.

‘More Lefty’

“Right now, the language has been more lefty on the left and more righty on the right,” Robert Funk, a political scientist at University of Chile, said by phone from Santiago June 27. “That has to do with speaking to your base. You have to win the primary to go on to the election.”

The police stormed schools across Santiago on June 27 that had been occupied by students demanding improved education and an end to profits in the industry. The schools, now occupied by the army, are to be used as polling stations.

The student movement also led a day of protests on June 26 that ended in confrontations with the police.

The Candidates

Bachelet, who headed the women’s office at the United Nations until March, will face her former finance minister Andres Velasco, Claudio Orrego for the Christian Democrats and Jose Antonio Gomez of the Radical Party.

For the ruling coalition, Allamand is running against Pablo Longueira, the candidate for the Independent Democratic Union. Allamand is backed by National Renovation, the former party of President Sebastian Pinera.

A poll by Central University on June 17 and 18 showed 65 percent of people expect Allamand to beat Longueira. The survey of 300 people didn’t ask for voter preferences and had a margin of error of 5.65 percentage points. The MORI poll also concluded that Allamand would win, without giving percentages.

Bachelet, constitutionally banned from running for a second consecutive term, took a break from politics to lead UN Women, a gender-equality agency created in 2010, the same year she left office.

Her success in November’s election would return her center-left coalition to power after a four-year hiatus. The bloc, that includes Bachelet’s Socialist party and Christian Democrats, had ruled Chile since 1990, when the former dictator Augusto Pinochet left office.

Torture and Exile

As a 23-year-old medical student, Bachelet was detained and tortured by officers of the dictatorship in 1975. The year before, Bachelet’s father, Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, died in jail of a heart attack after being tortured on suspicion he opposed the coup that toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende.

Bachelet completed her studies in East Germany after being exiled to Australia. An agnostic and divorced mother of three in a Catholic country, she defied social norms on her return to Chile and rise to power.

Chile’s ruling coalition was thrown into turmoil earlier this year when its leading presidential candidate, Laurence Golborne, was forced to back out from the primaries when it was revealed he has money in an offshore account registered in the British Virgin Islands. He hadn’t registered the savings when declaring his assets to Congress.

As mining minister, Golborne had led the rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in northern Chile. The rescue is being turned into a film with Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Lopez.

To contact the reporter on this story: Philip Sanders in Santiago at psanders@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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