POLITICS Presidential Elections

A disastrous week for Sichel: revelations and resignations

Unknown payments during earlier candidacies. Support from a sector he claimed he hadn´t lobbied for. Resignations from key campaign members. Right-wing candidate Sebastián Sichel has had another terrible week in an electoral campaign that sees him falling farther and farther behind his rivals. 

It has been a tough week for Sebastián Sichel, on top of an already difficult presidential campaign. After he came out the surprising winner in the primary for the Chile Vamos coalition parties, he seemed to be the favorite to represent the right in the second round of the presidential elections.

However, the rise of José Antonio Kast on the right, the increasingly strong campaign of Yasna Provoste in the center, government missteps splattering tar on Sichel, and ongoing accusations of his deep ties with the Chilean elite have hobbled the candidate. Surveys and polls now have him dragging behind in fourth place, whereas they previously had him running strong in second place and, at times, even ahead of the entire pack.

But this week seems to have given the Sichel candidacy its final blow. After a weak performance during the presidential debate on Monday, Oct. 11, where his rival Provoste attacked him on his past as a lobbyist, the days after proved that the center-left candidate was not far from wrong in her accusations.

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A report by CHV Noticias and CNN Chile on Tuesday revealed that Sichel, who ran for representative in 2009 for the Christian Democrat party, received contributions from large fishery companies. Most of these contributions were paid through irregular invoices. The man in charge of the payments to that campaign was Cristóbal Acevedo, who was (until recently) campaign coordinator in the current presidential campaign. Acevedo resigned shortly after the news broke.

Sichel, who repeated various times during his campaign that he did not have the backing of the corporate world, suddenly had to defend himself often against attacks on his past as a lobbyist. Provoste asked him during the Monday night debate about his past as lobbyist for the gas sector, a claim Sichel rejected. But on Thursday, it was made known that executives of three of the biggest gas companies in Chile, Abastible, Gasco and Lipigas, had donated CLP$16.5 million (a little under US$20,000) to his campaign. Rejecting the lobby claims suddenly became difficult.

Several campaign members resigned after the publications. Representative Andrés Celis, key for Sichel to get the votes from the National Renewal party, said he would be withdrawing temporarily from the campaign to reflect on everything that had happened. “I am not going to deny that for me it is extremely complex what has become public in the last days about Sebastián Sichel,” Celis said in an interview with CNN Chile.

Another major figure in Sichel’s campaign was Isabel Plá, former minister and member of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), with whom Sichel has had a difficult relationship, as many members of the party have opted for Kast. The UDI has a large, loyal base that might be key for Sichel in his chances to reach the second round of the presidential elections. These chances have shrunk considerably, in light of this week’s events.


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