Chile poll shows right-wing candidate further behind Bachelet

Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:41pm EDT

* Ex-president holds strong lead in Ipsos poll
    * Independent Parisi running third

    By Alexandra Ulmer
    SANTIAGO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Chilean right-wing presidential
candidate Evelyn Matthei has lost some ground in her uphill
battle against the front-runner, former President Michelle
Bachelet, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
    The Ipsos survey showed center-left favorite Bachelet, who
was Chile's first female president from 2006 to 2010, reaping 32
percent of likely votes in the Nov. 17 election, down 1
percentage point from Ipsos' last poll from two weeks ago.
 
    The poll showed Matthei with 20 percent, down from Ipsos'
previous forecast of 23 percent. Maverick economist Franco
Parisi, who has shocked the right by staging a late surge, is
projected to win 14 percent versus the 15 percent previously
forecast. 
    Around 11 percent of voters in the world's No. 1 copper
producer remained undecided or planned to cast a void or blank
ballot, with the rest of the probable votes split between the
other six candidates jostling in the first round. 
    The poll indicates that the vote will go to a Dec. 15
runoff, as suggested by a poll last week. 
    Bachelet would need to win more than 50 percent of votes to
avoid a runoff, which no candidate has done since 1993.
    A scant number of polls and the fact that voting in Chile is
now voluntary has injected a dose of risk in making projections,
though Bachelet has been seen as a shoo-in for months due to her
personable style and vows to redress steep economic inequality.
    As the former head of the U.N. women's agency is widely
expected to cruise to victory, the major question is whether her
bloc will land a sufficiently strong presence in Congress to
push through her proposed reforms, which include hiking
corporate taxes to help fund education reform and overhauling
the dictatorship-era constitution.      
    
    RIGHT STRUGGLES 
    Disenchantment with the political elite in Chile has
bolstered support for independent and smaller-party candidates. 
    The 45-year-old Parisi shot to fame by hosting radio and TV
shows explaining economics. His critiques of the political
establishment and concentration of wealth have gone down well
with some Chileans, particularly the young. Detractors say he is
a populist without a clear ideology.
    Matthei has switched strategies this week to attack him
head-on - which many analysts interpreted as evidence her
alarmed campaign has recognized he is gaining ground. 
    She said lawsuits have been filed against Parisi for failing
to pay salaries at schools linked to his brother and him. Parisi
retorted that Matthei's bloc was trying to create a scandal to
deflect attention from her inability to win votes.
    Her sharp tongue, former post as labor minister in the
unpopular government of President Sebastian Pinera and family
links to the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship have played against
her, experts say.
    Despite robust economic growth, billionaire businessman
Pinera has been largely unable to connect with most Chileans.
His Alianza bloc has also been dogged by its links to the
dictatorship as Chile this year marks the 40th anniversary of
the bloody military coup that ushered in Pinochet's rule.
    Some in the Alianza say Pinera, who hails from the
Renovacion Nacional party, has not thrown enough support behind
Matthei, who belongs to the more conservative Union Democrata
Independiente party.
    Still, the poll indicated she is poised to finish ahead of
Parisi next month to face Bachelet in December. 
    Bachelet has remained above the fray and has focused on
touring remote regions to work the crowds. Critics say much of
her popularity hinges on charisma and question why she did not
implement the sweeping changes she now promises.
    This is the first time Chile has had two female
front-runners. The constitution bars the president from seeking
direct re-election.
    The Ipsos survey, conducted between Oct. 8 and Oct. 18,
polled 1,400 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 
2.6 percentage points. It gives voting intentions for the 51
percent of interviewees deemed 'likely voters,' with a margin of
error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

 (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Jim Loney)
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