Chile billionaire wins presidency
Santiago, January 18, 2010
Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera won Chile's presidential election on Sunday, ending two decades of center-left rule in Latin America's most stable economy and the world's top copper producer.
Airline magnate Sebastian Pinera won around 52 percent of Sunday's vote with more than 60 percent of ballots counted, and his leftist rival, former President Eduardo Frei, quickly conceded defeat.
The victory by Pinera, a Harvard-educated airline magnate, marks a shift to the right in South America, a region dominated by leftist rulers from Venezuela to Argentina, although no major changes to economic policy are expected.
Many Chileans were disenchanted with the ruling center-left "Concertacion" coalition that has governed since the end of Gen Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship.
It was the first time that Chile's political right, which backed Pinochet, has democratically won the presidency for over 50 years.
Support for the leftist ruling coalition dwindled, with voters saying it could have made better use of billions of dollars in copper boom savings. There was also growing frustration that an old guard has dominated politics in Chile, also a major salmon, wine and fruit exporter.
"Better times are coming for Chile. There is a great new phase on the way," Pinera, who will take power in March, said on Sunday. "After 20 years I think a change will be good for Chile. It's like opening the windows of your home to let fresh air come in."
Chile, with a population of 16 million, has the highest standard of living in Latin America, according to the Human Development Index, which measures education, health, income and other factors. But many voters said it was time for a change.
Pinera, 60, has vowed to give Chile's state a business-like overhaul to boost efficiency, promising to create a million jobs and boost economic growth to average 6 percent a year. The economy shrank in 2009, its first recession in a decade.
His critics say Pinera's plan depends too heavily on the private sector generating jobs and banks on a steady global recovery maintaining copper demand. Pinera could also struggle to push reforms through a divided Congress.
An extreme sports enthusiast who flies his own helicopter, Pinera succeeded in distancing himself from the legacy of Pinochet's rule, when over 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" and around 28,000 were tortured. - Reuters