Polar opposite candidates in final clash of Chile’s presidential elections

Two polar opposite candidates clashed in an emotional second round of Chile’s presidential election Monday, keeping the country on track for its third consecutive year of presidential change.

Juan Antonio Benedetti, who took a liberal turn under the first-term leftist government of Sebastian Pinera and named himself “Secretary General for Peace,” was the only candidate to win the 5 million votes necessary to win the Oct. 7 first round.

Pinera, a controversial right-wing candidate, polled 29 percent of the vote.

Benedetti will face billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, the candidate from Chile’s conservative business community, in the Oct. 7 runoff election.

Benedetti, a wealthy businessman and former leader of the opposition center-left coalition, racked up more than 9 million votes in the first round, but he was not credited with winning any of the 31 electoral districts and will now have to win with a plurality in the capital, Santiago.

Benedetti trailed Pinera in a partial preliminary tally released Sunday by Chile’s electoral office.

Benedetti is popular among moderates and independents for a record 23-month term as governor of Santiago, amid soaring public employment and improving living standards. His campaign for change with a record of competence has appealed to urbanites frustrated by the previous left-wing government of President Michelle Bachelet.

Belsetti called for continuing policies launched by Bachelet’s government and backing the teachers’ drive for a raise, which he said would provide stability for the economy and “sacrifice only a good salary, not prestige.”

Pinera, who was Pinera because he supported Pinera for the presidency four years ago, has helped implement anti-poverty policies, enhanced democracy and launched free university education. Yet Chile remains one of the world’s most unequal countries.

Benedetti attacked Pinera for using government funds for a festive rally with a pro-Pinera football team in Chile’s most marginalized shantytowns, charging that it had undermined efforts to improve the lives of the poor.

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