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Chile's conservative bloc picks new candidate

Ruling coalition announces Labour Minister Evelyn Matthei as its candidate in November presidential election.

Last Modified: 21 Jul 2013 08:00
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Michelle Bachelet, who was Chile's first female president, is tipped to beat Matthei in the November poll [Reuters]

Chile's conservative UDI party has picked Labour Minister Evelyn Matthei as its new candidate in the presidential election to be held in November.

Matthei steps in after the right-wing's former candidate Pablo Longueira unexpectedly quit the campaign on Wednesday due to depression, sending the conservative bloc into disarray.

Longueira had launched his campaign after the right's previous favourite Laurence Golborne dropped his bid in April because of a scandal from his time as chief executive officer of retailer Cencosud.

"These are difficult times," Patricio Melero, the UDI's president, said during a news conference on Saturday, adding "we think Matthei is a winning candidate”.

An economist known for her blunt style, Matthei is a seasoned member of the UDI party. She will face former president and leftist candidate Michelle Bachelet in the presidential race.

Bachelet, who was Chile's first female president, is tipped to beat Matthei in the November 17 election or a potential December 15 runoff.

Her approval ratings hover near 75 percent, compared with around 34 percent for Matthei, according to a survey conducted by pollster CEP between November and December last year.

Economic reform

Pediatrician-turned-politician Bachelet has promised to tackle Chile's steep economic inequality by raising corporate taxes to work towards funding free university-level education.

She also wants to legalise abortion in some cases and reform the dictatorship-era constitution.

While Matthei's programme has not been unveiled yet, she has broadly backed conservative President Sebastian Pinera's economic policies, and said she is against free university-level education and in favour of legalising abortion in certain cases.

Matthei and Bachelet have reportedly known each other since childhood, as both their fathers were air force generals.

But Bachelet's father was loyal to socialist President Salvador Allende, who was removed in a 1973 military coup that ushered in the brutal, 17-year Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Matthei's father, however, was a member of the junta.

The ruling coalition formed by the conservative Independent Democratic Union and the centre-right National Renovation is Chile's first conservative government since the country's return to democracy in 1990.

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