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Bachelet Wins Landslide Victory in Chilean Opposition Primary

Former President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory in primary elections for Chile’s opposition today, lining her up as the favorite for presidential elections in November as the ruling coalition split almost 50-50 between its two candidates.

Bachelet, who led Chile from 2006 to 2010, had 73.8 percent of the vote with 93 percent of the ballots counted, while Andres Velasco, her closest rival and a former finance minister, had 12.5 percent, according to the Electoral Service. In the ruling coalition, Pablo Longueira edged ahead of Andres Allamand with 51.1 percent of the vote to 48.9 percent.

“It’s a shoe-in for Bachelet” in the November election, said Patricio Navia, a political science professor at New York University. With five people voting in the opposition alliance for every two voting for the ruling coalition “this weakens the right wing and it weakens the president.”

The administration of President Sebastian Pinera has been undermined by two years of student protests in support of improved education, even as the economy expanded more than 5 percent in each of the past three years. Bachelet has promised increased spending on education, paid for by a 5 percentage point increase in the corporate tax levy and a cut in the amount of money companies can put aside for future investment without paying tax. The candidates for the ruling coalition have promised to cut levies on gasoline.

Pinera “was a lame-duck president before this vote, but this puts all the nails in the coffin,” Navia said by phone from Santiago.

Longueira Surprise

Longueira’s victory for the ruling coalition makes a Bachelet win in November even more likely, Navia said. The Independent Democratic Union, Longueira’s party, was created in the 1980s by people who worked for the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

A poll by Central University on June 17 and 18 had showed 65 percent of people expected Allamand to beat Longueira. The survey of 300 people didn’t ask for voter preferences and had a margin of error of 5.65 percentage points. A MORI poll also concluded that Allamand would win, without giving percentages.

Bachelet, constitutionally banned from running for a second consecutive term, had taken a break from politics to lead UN Women, a gender-equality agency created in 2010, the same year she left office.

Her success in November’s election would return her center-left coalition to power after a four-year hiatus. The bloc, that includes Bachelet’s Socialist party and Christian Democrats, had ruled Chile since 1990, when the Pinochet left office.

Torture and Exile

As a 23-year-old medical student, Bachelet was detained and tortured by officers of the dictatorship in 1975. The year before, Bachelet’s father, Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, died in jail of a heart attack after being tortured on suspicion he opposed the coup that toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende.

Bachelet completed her studies in East Germany after being exiled to Australia. An agnostic and divorced mother of three in a Catholic country, she defied social norms on her return to Chile and rise to power.

Chile’s ruling coalition was thrown into turmoil earlier this year when its leading presidential candidate, Laurence Golborne, was forced to back out from the primaries when it was revealed he has money in an offshore account registered in the British Virgin Islands. He hadn’t registered the savings when declaring his assets to Congress.

As mining minister, Golborne had led the rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in northern Chile. The rescue is being turned into a film with Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Lopez.

To contact the reporter on this story: Philip Sanders in Santiago at psanders@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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