Two women face off in Chile run-off vote

December 16, 2013 - 7:49:10 am

SANTIAGO: Chileans went to the polls yesterday for a run-off vote between Socialist former president Michelle Bachelet and conservative Evelyn Matthei, an unprecedented race for the top office between two female candidates.

Pre-election surveys give Bachelet, who was president 2006-2010, an overwhelming margin of support over Matthei, an economist and former labor minister.

Voter turnout, however, is a big unknown. While more than 13 million Chileans are eligible to vote, this year’s races mark the first time that voting in a presidential election was voluntary. 

In the first round on November 17, which resulted with Bachelet winning 47 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Matthei, more than half of all voters did not bother to cast ballots.

Bachelet, the former head of UN Women, is aware that she appears to be on the brink of making history again.

“I had the honour to be Chile’s first woman president, and it will be great honour once again to be the president of every Chilean man and woman,” Bachelet told cheering supporters at her closing campaign rally on Thursday.

Bachelet could draw up to 66 percent of the vote against 34 percent for Matthei, according to a recent Universidad de Santiago-Ipsos poll.

Because of the election, shops will be closed on the pre-Christmas weekend. 

“There is a chance Bachelet will get record high support and win with 60 percent of the vote,” said Marta Lagos, who heads public opinion survey firm Latinobarometro Chile.

However, there is nothing in the pre-vote survey “to indicate that lots of people are going to vote,” said Lagos.

Matthei, 60, and Bachelet, 62, are both the daughters of Air Force generals and knew each other as schoolgirls. 

But while Bachelet’s father died after being tortured for remaining loyal to leftist president Salvador Allende in the 1973 coup, Matthei’s father supported the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. AFP

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