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Socialist Bachelet tipped to win easily in Chilean runoff

13 december 2013, 17:00
0
Former Chilean president and socialist champion Michelle Bachelet, who has proposed tax reforms and a new constitution for her country, is expected to unseat conservatives Sunday in a runoff election, AFP reports.

Bachelet was Chile's first female president between 2006 and 2010 and, having comfortably won a November 17 first round of voting among eight candidates, is now on course to return to office.

The socialist goes into the weekend with a 21-point advantage over rightist rival Evelyn Matthei in Latin America's first presidential square-off between two women.

Bachelet, 62, won a resounding 47 percent of the votes in the first round, coming in just a few points shy of winning out-and-out.

But her lack of new proposals since then has sapped the run-off of enthusiasm, as she is widely expected to win the second time around.

Matthei, who served as labor minister under President Sebastian Pinera, did much better than expected in the first round, in which Bachelet had been predicted to win outright. But even she acknowledges the long odds for Sunday.

"We have fought to win and we believe we are going to win and if we win it will be the same as David against Goliath. It will be a miracle," Matthei, 60, said in an interview Thursday with Bio Bio Radio.

In an election twist, the two women share a common background as the daughters of Air Force generals who were close friends, and as young girls they played together.

But the 1973 coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power led their lives along different paths.

While General Alberto Bachelet was arrested the day of the coup and tortured to death for remaining loyal to ousted president Salvador Allende, Fernando Matthei went on to become part of the new regime's military junta.

Now the daughters face each other from opposite sides of Chile's political divide.

"We have two alternatives on December 15: one side which wants changes and another which believes the changes we are proposing are not necessary," Bachelet said Monday as a lackluster campaign neared its end.

Political scientist Cristobal Bellolio of Adolfo Ibanez University said that the election is being held "in unprecedented circumstances, in that rarely have the second round results been so clear."

"Matthei is going to lose. I do not know if it is going to be a landslide because it depends on how many people vote. But the right is going to suffer a major defeat," he added.

High rate of abstention expected

More than 13 million Chileans are eligible to vote Sunday, but turnout is the big unknown.

This year's race marks the first time that voting in a presidential election is voluntary in Chile. In the first round, the rate of abstention was more than 50 percent.

A poll released Wednesday indicated Bachelet will win with 63.7 percent of votes, compared to Matthei's 33.7 percent. The survey was conducted by the University of Santiago and pollster Ipsos.

"When voting is voluntary, the incentive is great when there is an emergency and in this case there is no emergency. Nor is there social unrest leading people to take to the streets to decide how their country is going to be run tomorrow, or uncertainty over the results, which is the other determining factor in the voluntary vote," said Bellolio.

Because of the election, shops will be closed on the pre-Christmas weekend. Both women are urging people to get out and vote.

Two platforms at stake

Bachelet, a pediatrician who ruled from 2006 to 2010, has proposed changing the economic and political model inherited from the Pinochet era.

She has suggested tax reforms to bring in an extra $8.2 billion, equivalent to 3 percent of Chile's GDP, plus free university studies six years from now and changes in the Pinochet-era constitution.

Matthei aims to keep up with the conservative policies of Pinera. They are projected to lead to 4.2 percent economic growth this year, with low inflation and nearly full employment.

"I am not going to tear down the walls of this house that we have built all of us together, because we live in a wonderful country," said Matthei.

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