Chile's Bachelet in final stretch to the presidency

Chile's Bachelet in final stretch to the presidency

SANTIAGO - Chileans head to the polls Sunday for a run-off vote in which Socialist former president Michelle Bachelet appears likely to easily defeat her conservative rival.

Bachelet's contest with Evelyn Matthei marks the first time in Latin America that a presidential runoff takes place between two women.

"There is a chance Bachelet will get record high support and win with 60 per cent of the vote," said Marta Lagos, who heads public opinion survey firm Latinobarometro Chile.

Bachelet - a pediatrician and Chile's first woman president 2006-2010 - is likely to draw over 66.3 per cent of the vote to Matthei's 33.7, a recent Universidad de Santiago-Ipsos poll found.

The 62-year-old former head of UN Women is well aware that she appears to be coasting toward making history decisively - again.

"I had the honour to be Chile's first woman president, and it will be great honour once again to be the president of every Chilean man and woman," Bachelet told cheering supporters at her closing campaign rally Thursday.

Matthei, 60, an economist and former labour minister, and Bachelet are both the daughters of Air Force generals and knew each other as schoolgirls. As adults, however, their lives took sharply different political paths.

Low turnout feared

More than 13 million Chileans are eligible to vote Sunday, but turnout is the big unknown.

This year's race marks the first time that voting in a presidential election is voluntary in Chile.

In the first round, which resulted with Bachelet winning 47 per cent of the vote to 25 per cent for Matthei, more than 50 per cent of voters did not bother to cast ballots.

Because of the election, shops will be closed on the pre-Christmas weekend.

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