Former President Bachelet sweeps up in opposition primaries

Chileans are slated to elect a new leader in November

Michelle Bachelet (r) celebrates her victory in the presidential primary.
Michelle Bachelet (r) celebrates her victory in the presidential primary. MARIO RUIZ (EFE)

Chile’s former Socialist President Michelle Bachelet swept to victory in Sunday’s primary held by opposition parties for November’s presidential race, beating out three other candidates with a 73-percent majority of the ballots cast.

“We have to work tirelessly to hopefully win in the first round in November,” said a jubilant Bachelet who was accompanied by her mother, Ángela Jeria, as she spoke with supporters.

The former head of UN Women is expected to face off in five months with the center-right candidate Pablo Longueira, a former economy minister who is representing the Independent Democratic Union, a bloc of conservative forces.

The UDI, which is the largest political grouping in Chile, selected Longueira over former Defense Minister Andrés Allamand by a close margin: 51 percent to 48 percent. Allamand was representing President Sebastián Piñera’s National Renewal (RN) party.

One of the major issues facing the race is voter participation. In a country where voting is no longer mandatory and registration is voluntary, voter abstention was 57 percent in the past election for municipal leaders.

However, some analysts are predicting a higher turnout, with just 10-percent abstention of the 13.3 million Chileans registered to vote. Nevertheless, the results for Sunday’s primaries were better than expected with more than three million Chileans going to the polls.

Bachelet, who governed from 2006 to 2010, has shown that the polls have been accurate since she toyed with the idea of running for a second term. Although she went to live in New York in September in 2010 and had been away from Chilean politics until March of this year, Bachelet took 1.5 million votes.

But another big surprise was the support garnered by her former finance minister, Andrés Velasco, who ran as an independent and took 13 percent of the votes. Velasco, who was a key cabinet member in Bachelet’s government, placed second in the primary.

During the past three months of her campaign, Bachelet has strived to broaden her center-left coalition, which for the first time will include the once-outlawed Communist Party (PPC). Among her promises, she has pledged an overhaul to the tax code, a new Constitution and free education for all.

Chilean students say that the educational system is unfair in their country because middle-class families have access to the best schools while poor families rely on an underfunded state school system. The issue has ignited violent protests for more than a year.

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