Chile: Sebastián Piñera wins presidential vote

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Sebastián Piñera election as president marks Chile new swing to the right. Credit: Concierto [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera looked set for a return to office after he secured a comfortable lead on his centre-left opponent Alejandro Guillier conceding the election in Chile’s presidential runoff vote on Sunday. The electoral results push Chile politically towards the right, as followed by other neighbouring nations like Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

The former president, 68, had claimed 54.57 percent of the vote in the runoff election, to 45.43% for senator Guillier according to the electoral agency which is a wider than expected margin in a race that pollsters had predicted would be tight.

Months of campaigning exposed deepening rifts among the country’s once bedrock centre left, an opening former president Piñera leveraged to rally more centrist voters around his proposals to cut corporate taxes, double economic growth and eliminate poverty in the world’s top copper producer.

His opponent, senator and former journalist Alejandro Guillier congratulated Piñera and conceded the election shortly after the initial results. In his concession speech at a hotel in downtown Santiago, Guillier called his loss a “harsh defeat” and urged his supporters to defend the progressive reforms of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s second term. Many Chileans had viewed the election as a referendum on her policies, which focused on reducing inequality by making education more affordable and overhauling the tax code

A Harvard-educated businessman who make a great fortune due to his involvement in introducing credit cards to Chile in the late 1970s and his subsequent investments, mainly in LAN Airlines stock, attempts to exploit the broad discontent with the outgoing Bachelet’s presidency, who struggled to fulfill campaign promises to reform labor and education in the country and will end its term in March.

Though neither candidate would have marked a dramatic shift from Chile’s free-market economic model, which has remain unchanged since Pinochet’s dicatorship in the 70s. A conservative victory underscores an increasing tilt to the right in South America following the rise of conservative leaders in Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

Chile has been one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies in recent decades, enabling the country to significantly reduce poverty. Nevertheless, GDP growth fell from a high of 6.1 percent in 2011 to 1.6 percent in 2016 because of declining copper prices, which negatively affected private investment and exports.

Unlike several other Latin American countries, voting is no longer mandatory in Chile. Around 14 million people were eligible to cast ballots on Sunday but predictions expect that 54 percent of the electoral roll may not exercise their right to vote.

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