SANTIAGO – Conservative Sebastian Piñera, who served as president of Chile from 2010 to 2014, defeated center-left Alejandro Guillier in a runoff election to assume the office at La Moneda on Sunday.
The 68-year-old billionaire businessman, who won close to 55% of the vote, will begin his second presidential term on March 11 for next four years.
His opponent Guillier, a former TV news anchor and independent senator, who represented the ruling center-left Nueva Mayoría, or New Majority, got just over 45 percent of the vote.
The November 19 vote returned a lower-than-expected 36.6 percent for Pinera, while Guillier came second with nearly 23 percent.
Piñera who already ruled Chile from 2010 to 2014 is one of South America’s wealthiest men, with a fortune estimated at $2.7 billion and ownership stakes in airlines, sports teams, and investment funds. Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States in January, and earlier this month Czech billionaire Andrej Babis became prime minister of his country.
He will succeed incumbent socialist president Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first female president, who leaves behind a chequered legacy.
Newly elected president Piñera shares breakfast with president Bachelet and Min. of National Affairs Mario Fernandez, discussing transition of power. pic.twitter.com/0jC6H7116z
— SantiagoTimes (@SantiagoTimes) December 18, 2017
Pinera’s Chile Vamos party has 72 of 155 representatives in the lower house, more than any other bloc. Still, without an outright majority in either chamber, Pinera’s allies will have to form alliances to pass most laws.
In his victory speech Sunday night, Pinera addressed Guillier, saying, “Despite our great differences, there are large points of agreement.”
A native of Santiago, Piñera attended the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, where he majored in economics. He then earned a doctorate in economics from Harvard. He made his early fortune with credit card company Bancard, which he founded in 1976.
When he won his first presidential election in 2010, he delivered on a campaign promise to divest many of his assets, including his 26% stake in airliner LAN, which he sold for $1.5 billion, and TV channel Chilevision.
Polls opened on Sunday at 11:00 GMT and closed at 21:00 GMT. Nearly 50 percent of the electorate did not turn out to vote.
More than half of Chile’s eligible voters, some 6.5 million people, did not participate in the election’s first round. Turnout has been low since mandatory voting was scrapped in 2012.
Chile is the first of seven Latin American countries to hold presidential elections over the next 12 months, including major regional players Brazil and Mexico.
Venezuela is also due to head to the polls by December 2018, however, the country’s President Nicolas Maduro has banned the main opposition parties from taking part.