Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Close presidential race expected in Chile

DPA , RIO DE JANEIRO AND SANTIAGO

One of the most stable and economically sound countries in South America is at a tense political crossroads, with two candidates running neck and neck in presidential elections on Sunday.

Socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet faces conservative Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire businessman, in a run-off election that will determine whether South America's shift to the left will be confirmed or whether Chile will become politically isolated from its neighbors.

The vote appears to be one of the closest since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet ended more than 15 years ago. According to a survey over the weekend by the daily La Tercera, 22 percent of voters remained undecided.

This means that the race is much closer than the gap that separated the two candidates in last month's first round of presidential polling when Bachelet, a former defense and health minister, racked up 45.87 percent of the popular vote and Pinera, the closest challenger, took 25.48 percent.

La Tercera pointed out that Pinera would have to capture more than 70 percent of the those undecided to win. But to his favor, the polls vary widely, with some showing a 41-29 percent split in Bachelet's favor and other showing only a small 3 or 4 percent margin for her.

The El Mercurio newspaper published even more paradoxical polling figures, showing that both candidates generate the same level of confidence -- 44.6 percent. In the poll, 50.2 percent thought Pinera more able to govern, and only 40.5 percent thought Bachelet more capable.

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