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Chile elects former leader Piñera to new presidential term

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Chile elects former leader Piñera to new presidential term

Providing a new political life to the 68-year-old former president, Chileans on Dec. 17 returned Sebastián Piñera to the presidency in a decisive victory. Piñera defeated Alejandro Guillier, who was seen as the political and spiritual heir to the outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet. Piñera had edged out Guillier in the Nov. 19 elections, winning 36.64% of the votes, with the latter receiving 22.70%. With no candidate achieving 50% of the votes required for an automatic win, the runoff election was held.

It was a neck-and-neck presidential race between the two as no clear frontrunner had emerged in the days leading to Sunday's election. Market favorite Piñera was the default choice after leading the first round, but endorsement from the left had boosted center-left Guillier's chances in what would have been considered a significant upset.

After Chile's GDP narrowed in 2009, Piñera ushered in economic growth averaging 5.3% annually during his first term as president. However, the billionaire faced huge protests over inequality and education issues, leading to low popularity ratings by the time he left his post. Piñera's successor, Bachelet, was less successful in propping up the economy, which averaged 1.9% annual growth during her term as commodity prices began to wind down. Citing Chile's prolonged period of weak economic growth and lower copper prices, Fitch Ratings downgraded the country's sovereign ratings in August.

Center-right Piñera vowed to bolster Chile's weakening economy through an ambitious investment plan and tax cuts on business. Meanwhile, Guillier advocated for the continuation of Bachelet's plan to raise corporate taxes to help shoulder the costs of social services and investments in alternative energy sources. Both candidates, however, promised to diversify the country's revenue sources to reduce its dependency on its main output, copper.