SANTIAGO – Rightist candidate Sebastian Piñera appears to have won a plurality in the Chilean presidential election on Sunday, garnering 44.23 percent of the vote with just under 60 percent of the ballots counted.
The conservative businessman will face off in a runoff with the governing center-left Concertacion coalition’s candidate, former President Eduardo Frei, who has obtained 30.5 percent of the votes, according to the official tally in a second recount that was released at 8:05 p.m. (2305 GMT) by Chilean Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende.
In third place and now presumably out of the running is independent candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami, with 19.39 percent of the votes, followed by leftist standard-bearer Jorge Arrate with 5.86 percent.
With 59.99 percent of the votes counted, if the current configuration of the race is maintained to the final tally, Piñera and Frei will be the pair that will vie for the presidency in the runoff balloting on Jan. 17.
Some 8 million people were eligible to vote for President Michelle Bachelet’s successor in the election, in which half the seats in the 38-member Senate and all of the 120 seats in the lower house of Congress are also up for grabs.
Bachelet called on Chileans to vote in an orderly fashion and said a runoff was likely in the race to succeed her.
The latest polls ahead of the election showed Piñera, the biggest shareholder in LAN airlines, garnering the most votes, but it has been recognized that he is unlikely to win an absolute majority and the election will in all likelihood go to a runoff.
Frei had appeared to be the businessman’s most likely opponent in the runoff, according to the polls, but Enriquez-Ominami, a former Socialist legislator, also appeared positioned to garner a relatively large number of votes.
Frei, who served as Chile’s president from 1994 to 2000, called on his countrymen “to vote calmly, with their conscience. To vote with their hearts.”
Enriquez-Ominami visited the tomb of his father, a guerrilla killed by the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship, before voting.
Polls have indicated that the legislative elections will probably end with the balance between the ruling coalition and the right that has existed since 1990 holding, while the Communist Party will gain seats in Congress for the first time since 1973.