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Chile's elections: a guide

Will Chile vote the right into office for the first time since the 1950s?

A supporter of presidential candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle wears a hat with badges at the grave of ex-President Eduardo Frei Montalva at a cemetery in Santiago, Dec. 8, 2009. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

SANTIAGO, Chile — For the first time in 20 years, Chile's center-left coalition risks being pushed out of power.

Chileans go to the polls Sunday to decide who will replace President Michelle Bachelet. Along with the future president, Chileans will also elect 120 representatives of the lower house of Congress and half of the Senate.

Here’s what you need to know about the four candidates, the race and why it matters.

The backdrop

Since the return to democracy in 1990, Chilean elections have been a choice between the right and the center-left, with a token left receiving minimal votes.

The governing Concertacion coalition has been steadily disintegrating over the years. Some of its members have been involved in high-profile corruption scandals, a wary electorate is tired of the same recycled politicians and leaders have begun breaking away to create new political organizations.

This year, the Concertacion allied with the Communist party in an attempt to help the left attain political representation in Congress. Chile’s electoral system excludes minority parties from political office.

The frontrunner

The Concertacion may end up ceding power to none other than a right-wing billionaire who made his fortune under the military regime’s protective umbrella and whose base of support is founded on former military allies: Sebastian Pinera.

Pinero, 60, lost to Bachelet in the 2005 elections and has been campaigning practically ever since.

He likes to say he is a businessman who knows how to create jobs. In fact, he has devoted his life to investing in the right places, and is now owner of a major soccer team, Chile’s main airline and one of the four television channels in the country, among his many other assets.

Pinera has been reaping part of the Concertacion fallout with the message that it’s time for change and new faces in government. He has been reaching out to the more moderate Concertacion electorate in an effort to occupy the political center and has even pulled some Christian Democratic names out of his hat as possible ministers in his cabinet.

Polls have consistently put Pinera's support at about 44 percent, which would easily propel him into the second round.

The establishment candidate

The Concertacion's candidate, Eduardo Frei, isn't getting much of a halo effect from Bachelet’s popularity.

Frei, a 67-year-old economist, was president between 1994 and 2000 and later a senator. He is vowing to continue Bachelet’s policies and is now appealing to more progressive voters by promising things he opposed or ignored during his own presidency and time in Congress: free distribution of the day after pill, civil unions for gays, an end to the amnesty law for human rights violators, a revision of the anti-terrorism law and a stronger role for the state.