Center-left candidate Michelle Bachelet has an overwhelmingly lead in the first round of Chile's presidential election. But she is short of an outright majority, setting the South American nation up for a runoff vote.
Although Bachelet led her conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei by a wide margin, she still fell short of the 50 percent needed to win the presidency outright on Sunday. With nearly all the votes counted, Bachelet had 47 percent compared to Matthei's 25 percent.
As a consequence, 62-year-old Bachelet will face off against Matthei again in a December runoff. But Bachelet expressed confidence that she would win.
"We're going to have a decisive and strong victory that backs up the transformation program that we have been building," she said.
Supporters of the five minor, mostly anti-establishment candidates are likely to either vote for Bachelet or abstain from the runoff altogether. But Matthei claimed Sunday's result as a victory, despite trailing far behind Bachelet.
"Going into a second round is certainly a triumph," the 60-year-old Matthei told supporters.
Bachelet served as Chile's first female president from 2006-2010 and enjoyed widespread popularity during her tenure in office. Chile's electoral law bans incumbent president's from serving two consecutive terms.
At the helm of the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) coalition, Bachelet has promised to tackle inequality in Chile, an entrenched problem in the wealthy Andean nation. Nueva Mayoria spans the political spectrum from Christian Democrats to Communists.
Bachelet campaigned on the promise to gradually introduced free higher education by increasing corporate taxes from 20 to 25 percent. Student protests in 2011 shook Chile's political establishment. She has also promised to reform the constitution, which dates back to the rule of Augusto Pinochet.
The legacy of Pinochet's 17-year-long military junta cast a shadow over this year's election. Bachelet's father, an air force general, supported democratically elected President Salvador Allende during the 1973 coup that forced the socialist from power. Both Bachelet and her father were detained and tortured under Pinochet. Her father died in detention. Matthei's father served as a general in the junta, and she voted for Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite on his rule.
More than 13 million Chileans were eligible to cast their ballots on Sunday, in the first election since the South American nation abandoned compulsory voting.
slk/jm (AFP, Reuters)