Chile heads to the polls

With eight presidential candidates to choose from, Chileans head to the polls on Sunday to decide who will succeed socialist leader, Michelle Bachelet, as president.

The current favorite is Harvard educated billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who was president from 2010 – 2014. He proposing to cut taxes on businesses to promote growth and resuscitate the flagging economy. The backbone of the Chilean economy is copper production and the country has been hurt by falling demand and lower international prices.

Pinera has a comfortable lead in the polls, but is unlikely to garner enough support to win the presidency outright.

“It’s not very likely” he will get the 50 percent or more of ballots needed to avoid a run-off, said political analyst Mauricio Morales of Talca University.

This means a second-round showdown will be held between the top two candidates on December 17, with the winner taking over in March next year.

Pinera’s closest opponent is Alejandro Guillier who is standing as an independent with the backing of Bachelet’s socialists. He is currently polling at 25 percent, compared with Pinera’s 44 percent.

Voter apathy

Compulsory voting was abolished in 2012 which has led to an increasing level of voter abstention. Analysts predict that abstention levels could be as high as 40 percent on Sunday, which would favor Pinera, who has more motivated voters who will turn out.

“People don’t want to vote because, really, nobody believes there will be any significant change anywhere. Also, they see who will be president as a foregone conclusion,” said Catalina Gascone, a 19-year-old student.

Chileans living abroad have already started voting, starting with those living in New Zealand, where 40,000 have registered to take part in the election.

Sunday’s ballot also includes legislative elections for many of the congressional seats. Electoral analysts predict that the right will increase its representation, but is unlikely to have the majority in either chamber.

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