Tue, Apr 07, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Former president of Chile, Frei, sweeps coalition’s primary

REUTERS , SANTIAGO

Former Chilean president Eduardo Frei on Sunday won the ruling center-left coalition’s primary, setting the stage for a battle against center-right candidate Sebastian Pinera in the December presidential poll.

Frei, who governed as head of the Concertacion alliance from 1994 to 2000, had already emerged as its main candidate to take on Pinera, a billionaire and the frontrunner to win the presidency.

President Michelle Bachelet cannot run for re-election.

“This result is as clear as water: The people have won, the right has lost,” Frei said. “We are going to continue with all the policies of our president and our government which mean social protection,” he said.

Frei, the son of a former Chilean president, won 64 percent of the primary vote, comfortably edging out rival Jose Antonio Gomez, who polled 36 percent. Gomez threw his support behind Frei after conceding defeat.

But the coalition faces one of its toughest election years since taking power at the end of general Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship some two decades ago.

Chile’s economy, long regarded as one of the most stable in Latin America, is facing a sharp slowdown as the global financial crisis reduces consumer demand and cuts export earnings from copper, the country’s top commodity.

Analysts widely expect the economy to grow slightly or contract this year.

Bachelet’s government has been battered in polls in the past year amid complaints of mismanagement of government funds, high inflation, a wave of sometimes violent student protests and a botched revamp of the capital Santiago’s transit system.

But a US$4 billion fiscal stimulus plan unveiled in January in a bid to fend off a recession, as well as a newly announced batch of measures aimed at spurring private sector credit, were well received.

Bachelet’s approval rating rose in March to 62.2 percent, the highest level since she took office in 2006, a poll showed on Thursday.

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