Conservative Favored In Chile's Presidential Runoff

A right-wing candidate for president of Chile got more votes than the nominee of the ruling left-wing coalition Sunday. But the conservative billionaire didn't get a majority, so a runoff will be held in January. If the conservative candidate wins, it could end 19 years of rule by a left-of-center coalition that gave Chile prosperity and democracy following a brutal dictatorship.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

In yesterday's election in Chile, a billionaire businessman from the political right took the most votes in the presidential ballot. It will still take a runoff to determine the ultimate winner. This could signal the end of 19 years of rule by a left-of-center coalition that gave Chile prosperity and democracy after a dictatorship.

NPR's Juan Forero reports from Santiago, Chile.

JUAN FORERO: By the end of the day, poll workers were counting votes.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And with a majority of the ballots counted, electoral officials said Sebastian Pinera had won 44 percent of the vote. That's well above the 30 percent that went to Eduardo Frei, the ruling coalition's candidate. That coalition restored democracy in 1990 after General Augusto Pinochet's rule, and then built what many analysts consider Latin America's most robust democracy.

Chile has posted strong economic growth and reduced poverty from half the population to just 14 percent. But voters prefer the conservative businessman who brought credit cards to Chile. Pinera also owns a stake in Chile's biggest airline and its top soccer club.

Jose Alagria(ph) is an administrator who likes the current government, but voted for Pinera.

Mr. JOSE ALAGRIA (Administrator): (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Alagria said he wanted a capable, credible leader, and he thinks Pinera is best suited. Pinera did not receive enough votes to avoid a second round in January. Analysts say the problem for the ruling coalition is that Frei is a 67-year-old former president who hasn't generated excitement.

Carolina Perez(ph), a dental student here, summed it up.

Ms. CAROLINA PEREZ (Dental Student): (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She says the politicians in Chile are too old, too set in their ways. Still, her candidate - a young, upstart filmmaker - didn't advance to the second round. And come January, it's possible that Frei could win if the left unites around him. Polls, thought, show that Pinera is likely to take the runoff.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Santiago, Chile.

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