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Pinera wins Chile election, will face Guillier in run-off

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 19, 2017

Sebastian Pinera, former Chilean president who is running again for office with the Chile Vamos coalition, addresses supporters in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (Luis Hidalgo / Associated Press)
Sebastian Pinera, former Chilean president who is running again for office with the Chile Vamos coalition, addresses supporters in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (Luis Hidalgo / Associated Press)
By Cecilia Becaria Tribune News Service

SANTIAGO, Chile – Conservative billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera on Sunday won Chile’s presidential election, but will now have to face leftist candidate Alejandro Guillier in a run-off in December.

The 67-year-old took 36.6 percent of the vote with 99 percent of votes tallied.

Independent senator Guillier, 64, who represented outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left coalition, received 22.6 percent of the vote.

Journalist Beatriz Sanchez, whose party Frente Amplio includes ecologists and left-wing liberals, was third with 20.2 percent. The fourth, among a total of eight candidates, was right-winger Jose Antonio Kast with 7.9 percent of the vote.

About 14 million people were eligible to cast their ballots in the vote for Chile’s president, the 155 members of the Chamber of Deputies and part of the Senate.

“We have opened the door that will take us to better times,” Pinera said, announcing a “new phase.”

Guillier vowed that the left, representing a “broader” Chile with more “solidarity,” would win the second round on Dec. 17.

The fragmentation of the left was thought to favor Pinera, unless leftist voters unite behind Guillier.

Earlier Sunday, Bachelet and Pinera called on Chileans to exercise their right to vote amid concern over a low turnout.

“If you don’t vote, others will decide for you,” tweeted Bachelet, who was barred from seeking a consecutive term by the country’s Constitution.

The capital, Santiago de Chile, was offering free metro rides to make it easier for people to go to polling stations. People who were working were allowed to be absent for two hours in order to vote.

The turnout was estimated at 46 percent, though no official figure was yet available. The lack of interest is seen as reflecting a general disillusionment with politicians, on both sides of the spectrum, due to corruption scandals.

On Sunday morning, police detained at least 23 people who had broken into Pinera’s headquarters, accusing him of corruption.

Should Pinera win in the December run-off, it would be the second time Chileans elected a conservative president since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1990.

Pinera, who presided over an average economic growth of more than 5 percent during his previous presidency from 2010 to 2014, campaigned this time on promises to revitalize the country’s sluggish economy.

Chile has been one of South America’s fastest-growing economies in recent decades, but growth slowed from 6.1 percent in 2011 to a level that the country’s central bank expects to stand between 1 percent and 1.75 percent this year.

The slowdown is partly due to a fall in the price of copper – Chile’s top export – but Bachelet’s critics also point to corporate tax hikes that are seen as having discouraged foreign investment.

Pinera is also expected to tone down Bachelet’s moves to increase financial support to pensioners and students, should he gain power.

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