Right poised to win Chilean elections
Published 10/01/2010 | 05:00
As a flashy billionaire businessman who controls a television station, owns a football club and has had cosmetic surgery, Sebastian Pinera is inevitably compared with Silvio Berlusconi.
But unlike the Italian prime minister, political power has so far eluded the 60-year-old Chilean presidential hopeful.
That now looks likely to change as Mr Pinera is poised to defeat his left-of-centre opponent next Sunday -- winning power for the Right for the first time since General Augusto Pinochet was forced from office two decades ago.
It will be an important moment in Chile's progress out of the shadow of Pinochet's 17-year rule, under which 3,000 people died or "disappeared".
For many Chileans, the election of a right-winger has been unthinkable until now, least of all one who, like Mr Pinera, made his fortune while Pinochet was in power. But the billionaire is an expert at turning on the charm.
Mr Pinera, whose brother Jose served in Pinochet's cabinet, is also quick to distance himself from that regime.
"I was against Pinochet," he says. "I've always reinforced my commitment towards democracy and human rights. Now is the time to look ahead and innovate and reform the government, and obviously to fight against inequality."
Mr Pinera introduced Chile's first credit cards during the 1970s and 1980s, building an empire which includes a hefty stake in the national airline, LAN. He has promised to inject a "dynamism" into Chile's flagging economy.
He ran for the presidency four years ago, winning 25 per cent in the first round before being beaten by Michelle Bachelet, the current president, in the run-off.
But many Chileans seem to have been won round to their version of the flamboyant Italian prime minister.
In last month's first round, Mr Pinera won 44 per cent of the vote. His nearest rival, Eduardo Frei, secured 30 per cent, triggering a run-off. The swing to the Right is a blow to the centre-left Concertacion, which has governed continuously since Pinochet, who died three years ago, stood down.
Mrs Bachelet's father died after months of torture by Pinochet's regime, while she was also tortured.
Mrs Bachelet is still very popular, but the Chilean constitution does not permit an incumbent president to run again.
Her popularity has failed to rub off on Mr Frei, a 67-year-old engineer whose own father is believed to have died at the hands of Pinochet's secret police. With such wounds still so raw, it is little wonder that critics of Mr Pinera still seek to paint his Alliance for Chile coalition as being "the heirs of Pinochet".
But Mr Pinera insists that his policies are in sharp contrast to "Pinochetismo" ideas.
He says he supports Mrs Bachelet's social policies while he also included a gay couple in a television campaign advertisement.