Paulina Núñez Urrutia, a Chilean MP, took the unusual step of distributing dolls in her own image on October 29 in Antofagasta as part of her re-election bid. (Images posted on her Facebook page.)

People have since been ridiculing her for the publicity stunt online – but the doll giveaway was in fact illegal, according to the Electoral Service (Servicio Electoral).

Núñez Urrutia – a member of Renovación Nacional, a right-wing opposition party – has represented the region of Antofagasta in the Chilean Chamber of Deputies since 2013. (The Chamber of Deputies is the lower house of parliament). Last Sunday, she distributed these dolls (and hugs) to both children and adults in a market in Antofagasta. The giveaway was also attended by Cristián Monckeber, the president of the Renovación Nacional party. According to local media, Núñez Urrutia handed out about 10,000 dolls.

Clearly proud of this campaign strategy, she live-streamed the doll distribution on Facebook. She also posted photos and a video.

"This is the second version [of the doll], this time in a dress!" says a broadly smiling Núñez Urrutia in her Facebook Live post, at 19 seconds into the video.

It turns out that this isn’t the first time the candidate has used this unusual strategy. She handed out a different lookalike doll during her first campaign for parliament in 2013. (That version was wearing jeans.)

This year, each doll came complete with a copy of her campaign platform as well as a summary of her personal, professional and political history.

On November 19, voters will cast their ballots for regional, legislative and executive leaders, including the president.

Mocked on social media

On social media, many people ridiculed Núñez Urrutia’s dolls.

“Someone needs to explain to @paulinanu that minors don’t vote”

“Could someone sell me a Paulina Nuñez doll? It’s for a voodoo lesson!”

"Hahaha, what an ego."

But not all the comments were poking fun – some people questioned how Núñez Urrutia paid for the dolls.

"She says that each doll cost 400 pesos [Editor’s note: Equivalent to €0.54 and that she made 10,000 dolls. That amounts to 4,000,000 pesos [Editor’s note: Roughly equivalent to €5,407] which no doubt comes from her parliamentary allowance, i.e. your pocket".

Moreover, quite a few other people – including activists and other candidates – said the doll distribution was actually illegal in the middle of a campaign.

"The MP did it again! It’s terrible to see that she contributed to the new @ServelChile law [Editor’s note: The Electoral Service is the body tasked with supervising the elections] and that she’s acting on the margins of this law,” complained one activist from the Socialist party.

Others distribute free eyeglasses

Núñez Urrutia responded to her critics in an interview with the newspaper, "El Mercurio de Antofagasta".

She argued that there was no problem with distributing the dolls as she claimed to respect the three conditions established by the Electoral Service: She emphasised that the cost of making the dolls was low, that she had handed out the dolls one by one, and that the doll distribution was a way to provide information about the elections.

Núñez Urrutia isn’t the only candidate to have stirred up controversy in the region. A few weeks prior, Katherine San Martin, a Renovación Nacional candidate for regional councilor, handed out free eyeglasses to voters during an event attended once again by party leader Monckeber.

San Martin rebuked her critics in a tweet, claiming that she hadn’t planned to distribute eyeglasses and that it was nothing more than "a present from a leader”, without providing any more details.

Illegal gifts

In a tweet, the Electoral Service said that Núñez Urrutia’s doll distribution was illegal.

"Indeed, this type of gift is illegal. One is only permitted to distribute informative objects of a much smaller size.”

In an interview with a local radio station, Abel Castillo, the regional director of the Electoral Service, reiterated that it was illegal to distribute either dolls or eyeglasses.

He clarified that only the distribution of calendars, key chains or pens are allowed under the law. Indeed, an online manual posted by the Electoral Service states that the distribution of larger objects is banned.

Castillo also stated that candidates who broke this law would have to pay a fine of up to 200 UTM (UTM stands for monthly fiscal unit – a measure used in Chile that takes inflation into account – and 200 UTM currently equals roughly €12,700), but that process could take two to three months from when a complaint is filed.

Article written with
Chloé Lauvergnier

Chloé Lauvergnier , Journaliste francophone