SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s presidential hopefuls wrapped up campaigning on Thursday in a race that has pitted billionaire Sebastian Pinera’s promise for change against center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier’s defense of a recent raft of progressive reforms.
With their six rivals trailing far behind, Pinera and Guillier are widely expected to place first and second, respectively, in Sunday’s election, allowing them to move on to an eventual Dec. 17 run-off.
Pinera, a 67-year-old former president, has portrayed himself as the best bet for reviving growth that has slowed in recent years in the world’s No.1 copper producer. He has vowed to cut the corporate tax rate and scale back outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s tax, labor and education reforms that Guillier has vowed to deepen.
Bachelet cannot run for office again because of term limits.
“Chileans face an important decision. They’re going to have to choose between change or continuity,” Pinera told journalists on Thursday on the last day for campaigning before the election.
Guillier, a bearded former journalist-turned-Senator, has tapped concerns that Pinera would mark a setback for gains made in Bachelet’s government for students, women and workers - from lowered university fees to laws that have empowered unions.
“This is an election to define the two Chiles,” Guillier said. “Support for education, health care and rights, or a return to the market.”
Neither candidate marks a sharp departure from the historically moderate leaders that have governed Chile since the country’s transition to democracy from dictatorship in 1990. But if Pinera wins as expected, this year’s election would mark another rightward shift in South America following the rise of conservative leaders in Peru, Argentina and Brazil.
Pinera’s and Guillier’s rivals passed out leaflets and chatted up voters in a final bid to shore up support, or at least help their parties win seats in the next Congress.
Analyst group Tresquintos said leftist candidate Beatriz Sanchez, a distant third in opinion polls, has zero chance of catching up to Guillier. The probability of Pinera securing at least 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff election was only slightly better at 0.001 percent, it added in an email.
Still, riding high with more than double Guillier’s support in recent polls, Pinera urged Chileans to “make it short” and vote for him on Sunday to give him an outright win.
Reporting By Antonio de la Jara and Mitra Taj; Editing by David Gregorio