SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- Chilean officials began counting
ballots Sunday from a presidential election in which a socialist and a
rightist offered pledges to rescue their nation from recession.
Campaign teams for both Ricardo Lagos of the center-left Concertacion
coalition and Joaquin Lavin of the right-wing Alliance for Chile said they
might have some preliminary results around 6 p.m. (2100 GMT, 4 p.m.
EST), one hour ahead of expected first official results.
Although there are six candidates running, opinion polls show only Lagos,
61, and Lavin, 46, have any real chance of winning.
Neither Lagos nor Lavin is expected to win the 50 percent majority needed
to claim an outright victory and take over the presidency from Eduardo Frei,
who will step down in March at the end of a six-year term. Opinion polls
indicate Lagos may win around 46 percent of the vote and predict 40 percent
If neither wins a majority, a run-off poll would be held in mid-January.
also indicate Lagos would easily win a second-round vote.
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
independent rightist - were expected to receive marginal votes.
Some 8 million voters have registered for the compulsory elections.
Correspondent Charlotte Smith, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed