Conservative ex-President Pinera easily wins Chile election

Latin America

Supporters of former Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who is running again for office, celebrate preliminary results during the presidential election runoff in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. Chileans voters will decide Sunday whether to swing the world’s top copper-producing country to the right or maintain its center-left path in a fiercely contested presidential runoff election. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Billionaire former President Sebastian Pinera easily won Chile’s presidential runoff election Sunday, moving the world’s top-copper producing country back to the right in the footsteps of other Latin American nations.

His rival, center-left Sen. Alejandro Guillier, conceded defeat to his supporters and said he called Pinera to offer congratulations.

Officials said the former president had 54.6 percent of the votes to 45.4 percent for Guillier, with nearly all the ballots counted.

Analysts had expected a much closer race, but there had not been any opinion polls on the campaign for several weeks.

The results prompted Pinera supporters to celebrate at his campaign headquarters and take to the streets of the Chilean capital waving national flags.

Pinera won last month’s first round, but his 36.6 percent vote share fell far short of what polls had projected. Guillier got 22.7 percent in the first round and was counting on support from backers of other left-leaning candidates who were eliminated.

The 64-year-old Guillier was backed by outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, but many Chileans have been disillusioned by lagging economic growth under her watch, a problem based largely on lower international prices for copper, which is the backbone of Chile’s economy. Many leftists also feel she wavered on her promises of profound social changes in labor and education policies.

Pinera, 68, struggled with large protests over Chile’s inequality and demands for education reform during his first term as president, and left office in 2014 with low popularity ratings. But he also oversaw annual economic growth of about 5 percent a year.

“I think we’ll win these elections and better times will come for all Chileans,” Pinera said after casting his vote in the Chilean capital.

The conservative politician proposes slashing taxes on business to revive growth and vows to launch a $14 billion, four-year spending plan that includes fresh investments in infrastructure.

Guillier, a former TV anchor, promised to continue Bachelet’s plan to increase corporate taxes to partly finance an education overhaul, reform the constitution and improve the pension and health care system.

“I came to vote for Guillier because he will continue Bachelet’s reforms, and thanks to her I have a son studying industrial engineering for free,” said Genaro Rodríguez, an electrician in Santiago.

Guillier also wanted to diversify Chile’s copper-dependent economy and develop alternative sources of energy to lower investment costs.

“I think we’re going to win by a tight but clear margin,” Guillier said after casting his vote in his northern desert region of Antofagasta.

During the first round, Beatriz Sanchez of the Broad Front coalition came in third with 20 percent of the vote. She pledged her support to Guillier.

Story by The Associated Press

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