Chilean Candidate Ossandon Backs Free Markets With an Iron Fist

  • Independent candidate pledges to stamp out white collar crime
  • Tackling abuses will restore faith in free markets, he says

After six years of protests in Chile demanding better education, pensions and health-care, presidential hopeful Manuel Jose Ossandon says what the country needs is more free market economics, not less. What must change, he argues, is a new iron fist for any abuses of the system.

“I firmly believe in the market model,” Ossandon said in an interview in Santiago. “I also firmly believe that prison is the way to tackle white-collar crime.”

Manuel Jose Ossandon

Photographer: Cristobal Palma/Bloomberg

Price fixing, high profile cases of tax evasion and illegal political donations by big business have all undermined people’s belief in a system that many credit with helping Chile expand more than 5 percent a year on average since 1984. To restore people’s faith, the government needs to tackle those abuses, while stating clearly that the model is not to blame, the senator for north-east Santiago said.

The emphasis on white-collar crime differentiates Ossandon from former President Sebastian Pinera, Ossandon’s principal rival for leadership of the opposition coalition. Pinera is a billionaire who has become embroiled in a series of controversies over his investments.

“How could Pinera clean up the system when he is part of it,” Ossandon said. “And how would people believe him?”

Lacking Proposals

Ossandon pledges to maintain fiscal discipline, defend free trade and “deepen” the market system. Exactly how he intends to do the last of those is not clear.

“Now is not the time for proposals,” Ossandon said. “People aren’t interested in proposals” at this early stage of the electoral campaign.

The opposition politician, who left the Renovacion Nacional party last year and now has no party affiliation, said he had a great team preparing his policy proposals, but declined to name them. Instead, he stressed the need for clarity in the defense of free markets and highlighted his willingness to work with politicians from across the political spectrum.

Chileans go to the polls for a first round of voting on Nov. 19, with a second round planned for December if no one candidate wins more than 50 percent. The two leading coalitions plan to send a single candidate, though dissidents in both groupings are encouraging their favorite candidates to run for the election on their own. Ossandon is one of those potential independent candidates.

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