With an audience more suited to a soccer game than civil discourse, the first televised presidential debate kicked off at the TVN television studio Wednesday night.
The crowd, made up of supporters and invited guests from the (now) four presidential candidates, at times grew so loud that they drowned out the candidates while speaking.
The presidential contest is currently led by businessman Sebastian PiÃ±era of the rightist Alianza coalition, who is polling in the mid-30s.Â Pinera is followed in the polls by Sen. Eduardo Frei of the governing ConcertaciÃ³n coaltion, who is polling about 25 percent of the vote; independent candidate Dep. Marcos Enriquez-Ominami with 20 percent and Juntos Podemos (Communist Party candidate) Jorge Arrate with about two
Wednesday eveningâ€™s debate, which began with the theme â€œCountry,â€ asked each candidate about their ideas to stem drug trafficking, increasing access to credit for small and medium businesses and improving the disparity between public and private education in Chile.
Every response from any candidate was greeting with loud heckling or cheering, as each candidateâ€™s fan group attempted to outdo the previous, including singing campaign jingles and pounding on the studioâ€™s bleachers with their feet.
The night was also not without its comedy. A comment by conservative businessman candidate SebastiÃ¡n PiÃ±era brought a round of laughter after he declared that the country needed more entrepreneurs that â€œknow to respect the rights of workers.â€
The debate heated up in the second round, when each candidate was assigned a topic and told to give three proposals for reform. Sen. Eduardo Frei, candidate for the ruling center-left ConcertaciÃ³n coalition, was assigned the â€œcorruptionâ€ topic (prompting a low â€œoooâ€ from the crowd). After laying out plans to revitalize the pharmaceutical and banking sectors, among others, he accused PiÃ±era of what he considered questionable business practices and a misuse of information.
â€œToday we heard a report from Transparency International that makes a very serious charge on the candidate from the right for use of privileged information,â€ Frei said. â€œTransparency International is an organization recognized worldwide. Today this says clearly that here there was use of privileged information, and that this put in debate the transparency and credibility of the Chilean system.â€
Frei referred to the 2007 purchase of 3 million shares of stock in LAN Airlines, which PiÃ±era owns, the day before the company disclosed its financial information. The Superintendent of Security and Insurance levied a CH$350,000,000 (US$650,000) fine against PiÃ±era, which he paid.
PiÃ±era responded minutes later in the debate when asked about something else, and flatly denied ever misusing such information. â€œI want to tell Senator Frei that he cannot be so irresponsible and avoid the truth, as he just did,â€ PiÃ±era said. â€œI have never used privileged information and nobody has ever accused me of it, and I hope he apologizes.â€
Independent candidate Marco EnrÃquez-Ominami also accused both Frei and PiÃ±era of failing to fully disclose their full campaign spending amounts. PiÃ±era denied this in a later question, while Frei simply ignored it.
Jorge Arrate, candidate from the Juntos Podemos party, thanked EnrÃquez-Ominami later for this.
â€œI want to thank the delicacy of Marco not to ask me about my spending, because the problem that I have is that I havenâ€™t any money to spend,â€ he said to a round of laughter.
SOURCES: LA NACIÃ“N