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Chile's Bachelet can't avoid runoff in presidential election

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

SANTIAGO, Chile — Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her closest rival in Chile's presidential election on Sunday, but she fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a Dec. 15 runoff.

With 92 percent of votes counted, moderate socialist Bachelet had nearly 47 percent, to 25 percent for conservative Evelyn Matthei. Seven other candidates trailed far behind.

Bachelet predicted she would win big in the second round and will push forward major social reforms.

“We're going to have a decisive and strong victory that backs up the transformation program that we have been building,” she said.

Matthei's campaign celebrated getting another try at Bachelet, this time in a one-on-one race.

“Going into a second round is certainly a triumph,” Matthei told supporters.

Bachelet, 62, left office with an 84 percent approval rating after her 2006-10 presidency despite failing then to bring about major changes in society. This time, she has taken up the cause of protesters, vowing to revamp the constitution, raise corporate taxes to fund an education overhaul and reduce the wealth gap.

But Bachelet's center-left New Majority coalition failed on Sunday to win the super-majorities in Congress needed to make those changes.

Matthei, 60, an outspoken former labor minister, says Chile must continue business-friendly policies she credited for fast growth and low unemployment under center-right President Sebastian Pinera. She favors funding programs through improved economic growth, not by raising taxes.

Bachelet and Matthei were childhood friends, but were on opposite sides after Chile's 1973 military coup, when Matthei's father ran the military school where Gen. Alberto Bachelet was tortured to death for remaining loyal to ousted President Salvador Allende.

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