SANTIAGO — Billionaire Sebastian Pinera will return to power as Chile’s president next year, according to near-complete results from a runoff election held on Sunday.
Electoral authorities said the 68-year-old conservative, who previously led the South American nation from 2010-14, had 55 per cent of the vote with 98 per cent of ballots counted.
His leftist rival Alejandro Guillier, a 64-year-old TV presenter turned senator who ran as an independent backed by outgoing centre-left President Michelle Bachelet, recognised his own “tough defeat” after receiving 45 per cent.
Pinera will lead the South American nation -- the world’s top copper producer -- for four years starting in March.
He will once again take over from Bachelet, who was barred by the constitution from running for re-election.
Bachelet and Pinera have tag-teamed the presidency since Bachelet first took office in 2006. Since then, they have alternated in power, switching Chile’s politics between centre-left and centre-right each time.
Pinera supporters were gathered outside his election headquarters in anticipation of his victory speech.
The outcome of the runoff had been far from certain after Pinera scored a much lower than expected 37 per cent in the first round of the election held November 19.
Analysts had speculated that Guillier could bolster his 22 per cent from that round by getting votes from other leftist candidates who were defeated.
But in the end, most voters appeared to come down in favour of the experience of Pinera, who is worth some $2.7 billion and painted himself as a safe pair of hands for Latin America’s fifth-biggest economy.
Voting had taken place under a somber cloud Sunday, following the deaths of five people and the disappearance of 18 more in a mudslide in the country’s south.
Both candidates had projected confidence, with Pinera stating as he cast his ballot: “I have the firm conviction that we are going to win these elections and that better times are going to come for all Chilean households.”
With no recent reliable voter surveys in the weeks before Sunday’s runoff, however, the outcome had been seen as wide open.
Marco Moreno, of Central University, had called it “the most uncertain election since the return of democracy” after the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. — AFP