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Chile votes in first-round presidential elections

Chileans are voting in the first round of presidential elections. Though the center-left candidate Michelle Bachelet is the clear favorite, it is unclear whether she can win enough votes to avoid a runoff.

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Chileans go to the polls

More than 13 million Chileans are eligible to choose from nine presidential candidates on Sunday, in the first election since the South American nation abandoned compulsory voting.

The center-left Bachelet has a clear lead in the polls. She has campaigned on a promise to reduce the country's rampant income inequality.

Bachelet's Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) spans the political spectrum from Christian Democrats to Communists. Her coalition has promised to raise corporate taxes to 25 percent in order to make education free within six years. In 2011, student protests over the cost and quality of education shook the political establishment.

"Inequality is Chile's huge scar," the 62-year-old Bachelet told a campaign rally on Thursday. "It's our main obstacle and the stone in our shoe when we really think about becoming a modern country."

Opponent trails in the polls

Her main opponent, conservative Evelyn Matthei, trails in the polls. A November 7 Ipsos survey put Bachelet at 35 percent support and 60-year-old Matthei at 22 percent support. Some polls have put Bachelet close to the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright and avoid a runoff in December. Competing for third place are the economist Franco Parisi and the filmmaker Enriquez Ominami.

Bachelet served as Chile's first female president from 2006 to 2010, but could not run immediately after her first stint in office because of term limits. She has promised to reform the constitution, which dates back to the military junta of Augusto Pinochet, under whose 17-year dictatorship Bachelet was tortured.

Her father, a general in the military, had remained loyal to democratically elected President Salvador Allende during the 1973 coup. Matthei's father was a general in the Pinochet regime. She voted for the dictator in the 1988 plebiscite on his rule.

slk/mkg (AFP, Reuters)

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