Right-wing millionaire Pinera gets historic win in Chile


Santiago : Right-wing multimillionaire Sebastian Pinera won Sunday’s presidential election run-off in Chile, with 51.9 percent of the votes.

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Pinera’s win is historic, as his inauguration on March 11 is set to take power off the hands of the centre-left coalition that has led Chile since the return of democracy in 1990.

It is also the first time that the right has risen to power by democratic means in Chile since 1958.

Ruling-coalition candidate Eduardo Frei, who already ruled Chile 1994-2000, got only 48.1 percent of the votes, based on a preliminary official count of over half the ballots cast, electoral authorities said in Santiago.

The outgoing Chilean government was quick to acknowledge defeat, although Frei stressed that losing power was just “a halt along the way” for the centre-left coalition.

“I hope dialogue, the search for agreements and social conquests prevail,” Frei said as he congratulated his rival.

Pinera is set to govern with a potentially hostile Congress. The centre-left Concertacion controls the Senate, while the lower house of the legislature is divided among the right wing, the centre-left, the communists and regional parties.

Pinera’s supporters started to celebrate their triumph on the streets of Santiago.

The election had been expected to be very tight, with opinion polls predicting a technical tie in the run-up to Sunday’s vote.

Shortly after polling stations closed at 2000 GMT, however, projections made by the radio station Biobio and by the Universidad Catolica already predicted Pinera’s win with 51-52 percent of the votes.

“Better times are coming for Chile,” a confident Pinera said as he cast his ballot.

Frei, in turn, called for “progress and development” as he voted.

Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, who walked to her polling station, stressed the absence of major incidents during the election.

“This is a very competitive election, but that is precisely why Chile will show its democratic and civic capacity,” she said.

About eight million Chileans were registered to vote, with around 18,000 soldiers in charge of keeping the peace during Sunday’s run-off.

Pinera easily won the Dec 13 first round of voting with 44 percent, but fell short of an outright majority, forcing him to contest a run-off against second-place finisher Frei, who got barely 30 percent of the first-round votes.

On March 11, the so-far ruling Concertacion – a coalition of Socialists and Christian- Democrats with two smaller parties – is set to lose power for the first time in its history, despite Bachelet’s huge popularity.

The outgoing president, a Socialist, is ending her term with approval ratings above 80 percent. Chilean law forbids presidents from seeking consecutive terms, but she has already declared her intention to run for the office again in the future.