Conservative Chilean Billionaire Wins Presidential Election

Billionaire Sebastian Piñera recently won the Chilean presidential election, and became the first conservative leader to gain power in the country since Augusto Pinochet's rule ended 20 years ago. People were surprised by the outcome, especially given current Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet's enormous popularity. Bachelet is a socialist leader who has reformed the economic policies of Chile and defeated Piñera in 2006 to become the country's first female president.

Many speculate that Piñera won due to the campaign promises he made to leave the economic policies of his predecessor—which many credit for Chile's recent stability and high standard of living— untouched. He also promised to continue some of the social programs started by Bachelet. The election is significant because it marks a shift to the right for Latin America, which for the last ten years has been mostly dominated by left-leaning leaders such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Lula Da Silva. 

Voters also indicated they were growing impatient with the center-left "Concertacion" coalition who had been in power since democracy returned to Chile in 1990. Among chief concerns were the misuse of money made in the copper boom; Chile is the world's top producer of copper.

Although Piñera has succeeded in distancing himself from the Pinochet regime, one of his brothers was a minister in the dictator's administration and some of his current staff also have connections to the former despot. "Pinera's victory is a clear indication that Chile is moving beyond the Pinochet era," Daniel Erikson, a Latin America expert at the Inter-American Dialogue told Reuters.

The Chilean consitution prohibits Bachelet, once tortured at the hands of Pinochet's henchmen, from running for immediate reelection, although perpetual non-consecutive reelection is allowed. Former President Eduardo Frei, running with Bachelet's support, was unable to utilize her record high approval ratings to his benefit and narrowly lost the election.

"There is a great new phase on the way," said Piñera, "After 20 years I think a change will be good for Chile. It's like opening the windows of your home to let fresh air come in."