CHILE

Michelle Bachelet leads in poll but may face runoff

 

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Special to The Miami Herald

Center-left candidate Michelle Bachelet appears set to win Chile’s presidential election next month but eight other contenders may push the vote to a run-off, a poll showed on Tuesday.

Bachelet, the left-wing leader of the New Majority Coalition who was president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, would draw 32 percent of votes in the Nov. 17 election, according to a poll by market research company Ipsos Chile.

That’s well shy of the 51 percent she would need to avoid a run-off election in December.

Her key rival and childhood friend, Evelyn Matthei of the Alliance coalition was expected to win 20 percent of votes while the remaining seven candidates were expected to poll between 2 percent and 14 percent each with 11 percent of the population still undecided.

The results contrast to an earlier opinion poll conducted by the Universidad Diego Portales between September 2 and October 10 when 37.7 percent of those polled said they intended to vote for Michelle Bachelet while only 12.3 percent said they would vote for Matthei. The remainder of respondents were split between the other seven candidates.

The elections come at a pivotal moment for Chile, the rising star of South America, as it tries to reconcile its painful past with a promising future as one of the fastest expanding economies in the Southern Cone.

In September, the country commemorated the 40th anniversary of the military coup that ushered in a 17-year-long dictatorship that claimed the lives of 3,000 Chileans and saw 40,000 tortured or detained.

The outcome of the election also is expected to influence global foreign relations, including the international response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

On Friday, Chile was elected as the successor to Guatemala on the United Nations’ Security Council, a position it will take up next January.

The next administration’s approach towards trade agreements will also have implications for global trade.

As the world’s largest copper producer and a major supplier of lithium, the country has been a major beneficiary of the commodities boom.

American demand for Chilean commodities has been steadily increasing over the past three years with imports of iron and steel from the country up 180 percent between 2009 and 2012. Imports of wood pulp and aluminium, rose 214 percent and 177 percent, respectively, according to data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the first six months of this year, the United States imported $7.08 billion worth of commodities from Chile, including $2.7 billion of copper, $1.4b billion worth of fruit and nuts and $736 million worth of fish.

A win for Bachelet, a 62-year-old physician-turned-politician, would signal a return to power for the left, whose tenure governing the Andean nation has been broken only once since the country’s return to democracy in 1990 when conservative leader Sebastian Piñera was elected to power in 2010.

Both women candidates have outlined ambitious political visions for the country — albeit with different priorities. Bachelet’s key policy proposals are to reform education and the tax system and revise the country’s constitution, which was written during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. She also has pledged major improvements to the country’s public health system.

Matthei has outlined proposals that include the creation of 600,000 new jobs, higher wages, tougher penalties for criminals and improvements to the public health system.

Although the opinion poll presents an optimistic outlook for the former president, the outcome of this year’s election remains very much up in the air. This will be the first year that voting in a national election is voluntary in Chile and the eight other candidates in the race could yet claw back the votes needed for an outright win.

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