Bachelet takes first round in Chile's presidential race

Socialist Michelle Bachelet won a first round of Chile's presidential race Sunday, with voters putting her on track to replace a conservative after a likely runoff next month, early returns showed.

  • Published: 18/11/2013 at 05:49 AM
  • Newspaper section: news

Chilean presidential candidate for the New Majority coalition Michelle Bachelet waves before casting her vote at a polling station during the general election in Santiago on November 17, 2013

Bachelet, Chile's first woman president who worked as the head of UN Women after her first term in office, is now eyeing a potential non-consecutive second term as the leader of the South American nation with the highest per capita income.

She was leading with 46.63 percent of the vote against conservative Evelyn Matthei, at 25.23 percent, with 54.63 percent of the votes tallied.

If Bachelet, who is seeking to succeed conservative billionaire President Sebastian Pinera, does not get over 50 percent of the ballots, a run-off -- also the country's first between two women -- will be held December 15.

Matthei and Bachelet were trailed by independent economist Franco Parisi and Socialist Franco-Chilean filmmaker Marco Enriquez-Ominami, at about 10 percent each, the early returns showed.

A pediatrician by training who was Chile's first woman president from 2006 to 2010, Bachelet seeks to overhaul the country's political and economic system, a legacy of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship.

The 62-year-old wants to raise business taxes to offer free university, answering the demands of a powerful student movement that led a series of massive protests since 2011.

The daughter of an air force general and a separated mother of three, Bachelet is supported by a "New Majority" alliance of socialists, Christian Democrats and communists.

Chile has the highest GDP per capita in Latin America -- $22,362 based on purchasing power parity -- but half of the nation's 17 million people make less than $500 per month.

Bachelet has pledged to bring a "new cycle" of reforms to reverse the country's wide income gap.

Outgoing Pinera, who cannot run for re-election, took office when Bachelet's first term ended in 2010.

Earlier, Bachelet beamed and appeared confident as she cast her ballot at a polling station in a school east of Santiago.

"Our effort has been to urge people to get out and vote so we can win in the first round, because there are plenty of things to do," she told reporters.

Balloting generally went smoothly, though a group of protesting students occupied Bachelet's campaign headquarters calling for election reform. There were no immediate reports of damage or injury, however.

Matthei, the conservative candidate and runner-up in the polls, said after voting that she was certain that she would compete in a runoff vote.

"In the end, the only valid poll is the one today," a smiling Matthei told reporters after casting her ballot.

The 60-year-old Matthei is a former labor minister under Pinera and former legislator for the ultraconservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI).

She has called for a continuation of the legacy of the deeply unpopular Pinera, claiming that a Bachelet victory would represent a move backwards.

In one novelty, for the first time since democracy was restored in 1990, voting is no longer compulsory.

More than 13 million people were registered to vote.

Voters also were choosing all 120 members of the chamber of deputies, 20 senators and local and regional officials.

The legislative vote will be key to whether Bachelet's ambitious social-minded reform plans will succeed.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency

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