Ricardo Lagos, a leading opponent of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who later went on to serve as president from 2000 to 2006, on Saturday accepted his party’s nomination to run in the 2017 presidential election.
The 78-year-old, who will represent the center-left Party for Democracy (PPD), vowed to improve communication between politicians and the public, invest in infrastructure, push forward with pension and education reform and tackle low productivity.
“The role of progressives is to carry on pushing at the limits of what is possible,” he said during an acceptance speech at a cinema in Santiago, surrounded by young Chileans.
Lagos is well-known in Chile for his central role in the battle to bring democracy to the country in the 1980s. Pinochet finally stepped down after losing a 1988 plebiscite on his rule, after a successful ‘no’ campaign that Lagos helped lead.
As president, Lagos was seen as a business-friendly moderate. He disappointed some on the left for not doing more to tackle deep inequality in the country, a top copper producer.
He faces significant competition in the race to succeed President Michelle Bachelet, his protege, who is constitutionally banned from running for a consecutive term.
Within the left-leaning “Nueva Mayoria” bloc, which includes the PPD and will pick its candidate in primaries later this year, his status as early favourite has been overshadowed by a surge in support for leftist senator Alejandro Guillier.
Guillier, a former journalist who was a virtual unknown a year ago, is seen as a breath of fresh air by many Chileans who have become cynical about traditional politics after a series of scandals during Bachelet’s administration.
Should Lagos win the primary, he must then face Sebastian Pinera, also a former president and likely candidate for the right-wing coalition, who currently leads in polls.
The presidential election is due to take place in November, with the winner scheduled to begin a four-year term in March 2018.