A run-off election for the presidency in Chile will be held on 15
January after no candidate received a majority in Sunday’s first round
of voting.

The front-runner is Michelle Bachelet, from the ruling centre-left
coalition, the Concertacion, who led the first round with 45.9%. The two
right-wing candidates, however, had slightly more than that between
them: Sebastian Pinera (25.4%), who will face Bachelet in the run-off,
and Joaquin Lavin (23.2%). The remaining 5.4% went to the Communist
candidate, Tomas Hirsch.

If Australians think of Chilean politics at all, they think of
Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, or perhaps the chaotic administration of
Marxist president Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet overthrew in 1973.
Latin American countries tend to get lumped together as the domain of
coups, military juntas and tinpot autocrats.

But in reality, prior to 1970, Chile had a long history of stable
democracy; one reason Pinochet’s rule was so traumatic was that Chile
had no tradition of military strongmen. Since he left office in 1989,
Chile has enjoyed stability and economic prosperity under a succession
of christian democrat and socialist presidents.

Bachelet, who fled to Australia in the 1970s, would continue in the same tradition, which the BBC
describes as “free-market economics mixed with leftist social
programmes.” But in a sense the re-establishment of democracy will not
be complete until the right wins the presidency and power changes hands

That is still possible this time. In the last presidential election,
six years ago, the
left’s candidate scored 48% in the first round, just half a percentage
point ahead of Lavin, who was the single right-wing candidate; in the
run-off the result was 51.3% to 48.7%. If the right’s supporters unite
behind Pinera it could easily be that close again.