The Washington Post
December 13, 1999
Right Wing Makes Strong Showing In Chilean Election
Country Heading for Runoff Contest Between Socialist and Conservative

                  By Anthony Faiola
                  Washington Post Foreign Service
                  Monday, December 13, 1999; Page A19

                  SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 12—After a surprisingly strong showing for
                  Chilean conservatives in presidential elections tonight, right-of-center
                  economist Joaquin Lavin forced a runoff race next month with Socialist
                  Ricardo Lagos, a dissident during the military dictatorship of Augusto

                  With 99.33 percent of the ballots counted, the two were virtually tied.
                  Lagos, also an economist, had 47.96 percent of the vote, compared to
                  47.52 percent for Lavin, a former supporter of Pinochet who has now
                  largely disavowed the ex-dictator. That's the strongest showing for a
                  right-wing presidential candidate in decades.

                  Four other candidates had small percentages. But since no candidate won
                  a majority of the vote, the winner will be determined by a final round of
                  voting Jan. 16. Recent opinion polls had predicted that a second round
                  would be required, but Lagos was widely expected to win the first round
                  by at least 3 percentage points.

                  Lagos, 61, is trying to become Chile's first Socialist president since
                  Salvador Allende was overthrown by Pinochet in 1973. Lavin, 46, an
                  economist educated at the University of Chicago who has successfully
                  portrayed himself as nontraditional centrist, is trying to break down Chile's
                  political barriers.

                  "Tonight were are witnessing the birth of a new kind of political system, a
                  country without a right or a left, no fights between the rich and poor, a
                  country at peace," Lavin said.

                  In a country where the right wing was long equated with the oppression of
                  Pinochet, the strength of Lavin's candidacy seemed to shock both Lagos's
                  camp and the nation. But after 10 years of rule by the center-left
                  Concertacion coalition that Lagos's Socialists now lead, voters responded
                  to Lavin's populism, nationalism and promise to close the gap between the
                  rich and poor and to fight poverty.

                  Critics have said that those promises will be difficult to deliver, considering
                  that his base is rooted in the wealthy right-wing elite. Many of Lavin's core
                  backers also continue to embrace the legacy of Pinochet's brutal regime.

                  Lagos had put many of the same issues at the center of his campaign, but
                  Lavin was better able to deliver with youthful, energetic, grass-roots
                  campaigning backed by an estimated $40 million-war chest--several times
                  that of Lagos's. Lavin's message appeared to strike a chord, especially
                  with young voters and conservative members of the governing coalition.

                  Lagos made a public appearance tonight well before the vote counting was
                  finished to appeal to Chileans--especially the members of his governing
                  coalition who had clearly broken ranks to vote for Lavin. "We need to
                  unite all Chileans who want equality and . . . who want to leave behind a
                  Chile controlled by a [elite] minority of the people," he said.

                  But Lagos's lieutenants acknowledged that the campaign needed a
                  jump-start to compete with Lavin's slick, well-scripted and aggressive
                  campaign. "We need to strengthen the [details of the campaign] and it's
                  been late, and we're going to do it now," said Sen. Sergio Bitar, a member
                  of the left-wing Party for Democracy and a close Lagos ally.

                  Next month's winner will replace President Eduardo Frei, the outgoing
                  president from the centrist Christian Democrats.

                  The race marked the first time a presidential election has gone to a second
                  round since the end of Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990, when the current
                  electoral system was put in place. The race has become the subject of
                  international focus as Pinochet sits under house arrest in London fighting
                  extradition to Spain, where a magistrate wants him tried for crimes
                  committed during his regime. More than 3,000 dissidents disappeared or
                  were killed during Pinochet's 17-year rule.

                  But the campaign was defined by the candidates' views on domestic issues
                  such as unemployment and education. Analysts suggested tonight that
                  Lagos, who only a few months ago enjoyed a large lead in opinion polls,
                  perhaps focused too much on lofty ideals such as human rights and the
                  need to deepen democracy, which is still limited by a constitution drafted
                  during Pinochet's tenure.

                  Lavin tried to shift what he called "political issues" to the periphery of the
                  national agenda, arguing that the government should focus more on
                  improving efficiency and fighting unemployment.

                  Although Lavin clearly has the momentum going into the second round,
                  some analysts said Lagos may be helped if he takes at least a portion of
                  the 3.19 percent of the vote won by Communist candidate Gladys Marin,
                  who finished a distant third.

                  Marin has urged her Communists to cast blank ballots to protest Lagos's
                  embrace of the free market and his rejection of negotiations with the
                  Communist Party. Analysts said such talk would cost Lagos support of
                  members of the centrist Christian Democrats, the largest party in his

                  "I see Lagos as getting stronger in the second round," said Enrique Correa,
                  a Santiago-based political analyst. "Lavin has run a smart campaign, but I
                  think Lagos has been able to generate more faith in the people."

                  Lagos and Lavin have both pledged to forge ahead with Chile's free
                  market economy, which has become a model in the developing world but
                  this year, along with much of the rest of Latin America, sunk into its worse
                  recession in a decade. Both candidates have also focused on the need to
                  close the vast chasm between the rich and the poor, which has widened in
                  this country of 12 million even as Chile posted record economic growth
                  this decade. However, they have disagreed on how best to accomplish
                  those goals.

                  Though Lagos is a Socialist, his policies bear almost no resemblance to
                  those of Allende, who advocated land seizures and the nationalization of
                  private industry. Lagos has stressed the need to reinforce the state's role in
                  society, arguing that the free market has not succeeded in creating a more
                  equitable country.

                  Lagos, who earned a doctorate in economics from Duke University, made
                  history in the late 1980s as one of the only dissidents bold enough to
                  challenge Pinochet publicly. During a national plebiscite on whether
                  Pinochet's rule would last another six years, Lagos denounced the dictator
                  on national television. Soon after, Chilean voters overwhelmingly rejected
                  Pinochet's rule, and the military leader stepped down in 1990.

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