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Will Chile vote the right into office for the first time since the 1950s?
But this reorientation largely hasn’t worked much, and he is now sweating it out for every possible vote, with about 31 percent of poll respondents favoring his candidacy.
A fresh face
Frei has to compete with the new enfant terrible in Chile’s political scene: 36-year old Marco Enriquez-Ominami, or MEO for short, who until June was a member of Bachelet’s Socialist party.
Congressman Enriquez-Ominami regularly blasts the political establishment. Allied with the Humanist and Ecologist parties and with a large base of support from independents, MEO has been sapping votes mainly from the Concertacion and normally apathetic voters.
A philosopher and filmmaker, Enriquez-Ominami is running on a platform of more effective civil rights and political reforms and has insinuated that his eventual government could include members of the left as well as the right. He has been polling at about 18 percent.
On the left
Polling at less than 10 percent is the candidate from the left: 68-year-old attorney and economist Jorge Arrate.
Arrate has been calling for a new constitution, the re-nationalization of copper (which was nationalized in the early 1970s while he was minister of mining and largely re-privatized after dictatorship) and strengthening public education.
In the past, leftist candidates have been virtually ignored. But this year, Arrate has received fairly even media coverage and participated in televised debates, helping him rise in the polls.
Since it's unlikely that anyone will win an absolute majority, Sunday's elections will determine what two candidates move on to the runoff vote on Jan. 17.
In any case, it won’t be Chile’s young population that will decide. Ever since elections were restored in 1988, less and less of the potential electorate under 30 is registering to vote. Registration is voluntary, but once signed up, voting is mandatory.
In 1988, 35 percent of the electorate was under 30, but the number has dwindled to only 9.2 percent this year.
Pinera looks certain to make it through the first round. Arrate, Frei and Enriquez-Ominami are scrambling to reach an agreement to endorse his eventual challenger in an attempt to block the right from returning to power. But that agreement is no sure thing.