Tuesday, 25 August 2009

In a presidential race that is already testing the limits of campaign negativity, two of the leading candidates have found something new to criticize: Sebastián Piñera’s open “bribe” to the Chilean public, a promise to give CH$40,000 (US$75) to each of Chile’s low-income families if he wins the upcoming election.

Piñera, the presidential candidate for the conservative Coalition for Change, said this weekend he plans to distribute the bonuses in March, should he win. He noted that President Michelle Bachelet gave two bonuses of similar amounts earlier this year. He defended the bonus as something the public “longs” for and quickly denounced anyone who labeled his proposal as “populism.”

Sen. Eduardo Frei, presidential candidate for the governing, center-left Concertación coalition, was quick to label the proposal as a bribe. “It seems to me that going around offering a bonus for next March threatens the dignity of all Chileans,” he said. “The time in which you could buy votes in Chile was over a long time ago, and we don’t want to go back.”

Independent candidate Dep. Marco Enriquez-Ominami seemed more willing to give Piñera the benefit of the doubt.

“The line between a candidate’s economic proposal and a bribe that is used to seduce the people, is very thin,” Enriquez-Ominami said. “I want to believe that he made his proposal as a statesman, not as a demagogue.”

Interestingly, another critic was the candidate’s brother, former Chilean Labor Minister José Piñera, who expressed his unhappiness with the bonus proposal on his Twitter page.

“Doesn’t anyone dare to say that it is populism to offer bonuses of $40,000 pesos whether you do it from one side or the other?” he wrote. “Is everyone blind?”

In a recent interview, candidate Piñera said that his campaign spent roughly CH$10 million over the past 10 days in his push for the race. Most all national polls have him leading in the presidential race, although none have him polling over 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting.

Piñera, who owns the local Chilevisión television station and has sizable stakes in Lan Airlines and the Colo Colo soccer team, is among the wealthiest people in Chile with an estimated net worth of over US$1 billion. Forbes ranks him as the 701st wealthiest person in the world.

Piñera recently said that he plans to sell his stake in Lan before the March 2010 presidential inauguration and is looking into either selling Chilevisión or setting up a blind trust for his wealth.

By Daniel Zarchy ( editor@santiagotimes.cl )

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