Right-winger ahead in Chile poll

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The Independent US

The Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera was leading in Chile's presidential election yesterday and is favourite to win a run-off in Latin America's most stable economy after 20 years of leftist rule.

Mr Pinera, an airline magnate who ranks at No 701 on Forbes' global rich list, won 44 per cent in Sunday's voting, shy of the more than 50 per cent needed for outright victory. It was the first time in decades that a rightist has taken the most votes in a presidential race in Chile.

Mr Pinera faces a second round on 17 January against the former president Eduardo Frei, who won 29.6 per cent.

If Pinera wins in January, he is not expected to dramatically overhaul the prudent fiscal policies that the center-left has applied for two decades, making Chile a regional beacon of stability.

According to the Human Development Index, which measures education, health, income and other factors, Chile, with a population of 16 million, has the highest standard of living in Latin America.

Both Frei and Pinera are now going after the supporters of independent Marco Enriquez-Ominami, who split the left after defecting from the ruling coalition and missed the run-off by finishing third with 20.1 percent of the vote.

"Ours is the candidacy for national unity ... government," Pinera told foreign correspondents at his campaign headquarters in Santiago on Monday. "We have called on Chileans to join a new transition for the young and for the future."