SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- The two top candidates in Chile's
presidential race are headed for a January runoff after neither garnered
the simple majority needed to win outright in the country's most
competitive election since the restoration of civilian rule in 1990.
Socialist Ricardo Lagos was barely ahead of right-wing candidate Joaquin
Lavin with 99.33 percent of the vote counted, official results showed on
Lagos, of the center-left ruling Concertacion coalition, had 47.96 percent
support to Lavin's 47.52 percent, meaning both were still short of the 50
percent majority needed to win outright and avoid a runoff on January 16.
Both sides admitted that the vote had not yielded a clear victor and a
would have to wait until the second round.
"The story has not ended today, because results are very close and will
remain so," Lagos said. "I am a democrat, and I respect the people's voice.
I have understood the message the people have given us today, and I will
continue to work tomorrow to seek that victory."
Lavin did not immediately talk to reporters, but his top campaign aide,
Juan Coloma, also acknowledged that Sunday's results would force a
Rivals similar despite party differences
The two men come from very different backgrounds. Both men have been
linked in the past to Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet; Lavin as a
supporter, Lagos as an opponent.
Lavin advised the Pinochet regime on media issues while Lagos has political
connections to former President Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet toppled
in a bloody coup in September 1973. This is Chile's third presidential
election since Pinochet left office in 1990.
Both men have avoided the issue of Pinochet in their campaigns in a tacit
accord not to mention Lavin's links to the dictator when he was editor of the
influential daily El Mercurio or Lagos' connections with Allende.
However, they agree that if Pinochet is going to be tried for alleged human
rights abuses during his 17-year dictatorship, then the trial should be held in
Chile. Pinochet is being held by Britain while Spain seeks his extradition for
a trial after an indictment was issued by a Spanish judge.
Despite their deep political differences, Lagos and Lavin offered similar
economic platforms to take Chile out of its deep recession. They promised
to maintain free market policies and committed themselves to reviving
economic growth to 6 percent annually or more.
Lagos, a lawyer and economist, is seeking to become Chile's first socialist
president since Allende. He wants to change the constitution inherited from
Pinochet, which he considers undemocratic.
In his campaign, Lavin focused on "the problems that interest people,"
as unemployment and crime. He has tried to capitalize on the recession and
11 percent unemployment that hit Chile last year after 15 years of steady
growth, blaming the downturn on the governing coalition that is backing
Four other candidates -- a communist, a humanist, an environmentalist and
an independent rightist -- received marginal votes, but their supporters could
play a decisive role in the runoff.
Some 8 million voters have registered for the compulsory elections.