Pinera’s promise to fire 20,000 Chilean public servants draws political ire

SANTIAGO – Responding to criticism sparked by one of his electoral promises to layoff of tens of thousands public servants, Chile’s conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera insists dismissals will not be grounded on political preferences.

In an open letter published this week, the former president and leader of right-wing coalition Chile Vamos attempted to mitigate the controversy by insisting that, if elected, his government “will respect” workers in the public sector.

“We will not launch a political persecution, as a candidate said in a very irresponsible way,” read the letter, referring to center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier’s accusations.

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Piñera, who leads the polls so far, has promised to fund half of his program – estimated to cost about US$14 billion for four years in office – with budget cuts, including massive layoffs among public servants.

Guillier, leader of the Fuerza de Mayoria, says Piñera plans to execute about 20,000 dismissals, noting that “hopefully he will announce some correction because he caused the panic everywhere. Get ready everyone, because if the right-wing wins it will be brutal persecution.”

The figure was an estimate from the National Group of Tax Employees, who noted on Wednesday that public workers in Chile only represent 10 percent of the country’s total labor force: below the 15 percent average in state members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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Guillier also criticized Piñera’s plan to close down the Employment and Training Office, representing about 700 public jobs and about “one million Chileans who receive training” via the office. “May Mr. Piñera have some humanity!” he said. “The major part of the office’s beneficiaries are humble people – among’s Chile’s 40 percent poorest.”

The Nov. 19 general elections will decide Chile’s next president, legislator and regional councilors.

Forecasting results in Chile is difficult, since roughly 60 percent of eligible voters don’t participate in elections.

Other presidential candidates include Beatriz Sanchez, of the leftist Broad Front; Carolina Goic, of the conservative Christian Democracy Party, and Jose Antonio Kast, a right-wing independent.

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Since the military dictatorship ended in 1990, the country’s center-left parties have won the past four elections. The right wing and centrists only won once, when Piñera received a majority of votes in 2010.

President Michelle Bachelet has said she will not run again because this is her second term.