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UPDATE-Conservative former president Piñera wins Chilean election


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UPDATE-Conservative former president Piñera wins Chilean election

Chile's former leader Sebastián Piñera won an easier-than-expected victory in the country's presidential election runoff vote Dec. 17, garnering almost 55% of the vote to just over 45% for his center-left opponent Alejandro Guillier, official results showed.

Victory for Piñera, who served as Chile's president from 2010 to 2014, continued a shift to the right across South America, after pro-free-market leaders won elections in Peru, Argentina and Brazil. Argentina's Mauricio Macri, also a rich businessman turned politician, spoke in support of Piñera during the campaign -- prompting Chile's government to complain to Buenos Aires.

The 68-year-old promises to double economic growth by simplifying the tax code and providing incentives for business investment. After heady growth in the 1990s, when investment in the country's rich copper reserves as well as in industries such as wine, salmon and pulp fueled an export boom and propelled the economy towards middle-income status, Chilean GDP has since risen more slowly, with the IMF expecting expansion of just over 1% this year.

Piñera will take over in March from Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who had backed Guillier. Piñera had also won the first-round presidential vote Nov. 19, gaining about 37% to Guillier's 23%, but support for other left-wing candidates had led many to speculate that the second round would be too close to call.

In his first term, Piñera managed economic growth averaging at 5.3%, although his popularity was hit by mass protests over the cost of education. Growth has fallen to 1.9% under Bachelet, as commodity prices have weakened, leading Fitch Ratings to downgrade the country's sovereign ratings in August.

Guillier had promised to continue Bachelet's policy of raising raise corporate taxes to help shoulder the costs of social services and investments in alternative energy sources.