Chile Businesses Await Return Of Billionaire With Midas Touch

RANCAGUA, Chile (Reuters) - Michelle Bachelet is a safe bet to return to power in Chile’s presidential election, but she is now promoting a more ambitious program of leftist reforms and will need every ounce of her political skill to push them through.

A physician by training and a moderate socialist by conviction, Bachelet has unfinished business from her first term in 2006-2010.

She wants to raise corporate taxes to pay for an education overhaul and rip up Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution as well as the electoral system.

Bachelet, the only woman ever to lead Chile, has between 30 and 40 percent support in polls, well ahead of her nearest opponent, Evelyn Matthei of the rightist Alianza coalition.

Matthei is polling between 12 and 23 percent, hampered by links with the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who took power in a 1973 military coup and led Chile for 17 years.

Memories of the coup and the violent repression that followed still resound 40 years later. The presence of Matthei’s father in Pinochet’s junta, as well as her own support for Pinochet in a 1988 plebiscite on his continued rule, have tainted her in the minds of many Chileans.

Seven other candidates jostling in the first round on November17 will likely push the election to a run-off in December, and Bachelet should comfortably win, polls suggest.

She could then be hampered, however, by an electoral system that gives heavy weighting to the second-placed party, so she needs to win big, or face four years of tough bargaining with the right.

While the other candidates scrap for second place, Bachelet has toured the South American country with a simple message: don’t just vote for me, vote for my coalition.

“I ask you to mobilize, to get people to vote for the coalition, to vote for Congress because I need a Congress that will take the plunge on the changes that Chile needs,” she said last week in Rancagua, a town in central Chile that could be a symbol for the export-led economy, bumping up as it does against a large copper mine and vineyards.

Bachelet’s pledges to address social inequalities by increasing corporate taxes, closing tax loopholes, spending more on healthcare and reforming an education system that favours those who can pay and has been the focus of sometimes violent student protests.

She also wants to help design a new constitution that she says would be “born of democracy.” It would be drawn up after debate but Bachelet wants to reduce the high number of votes needed to pass laws, introduce a new electoral system that is more representative of voting patterns, and lure more women into politics.

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