December 8, 2005

Chile’s Bachelet’s lead solid ahead of vote: poll

By Antonio de la Jara

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - A poll three days ahead of
Chile's presidential elections showed front-runner Michelle
Bachelet maintaining a firm lead in the race, but not enough to
win in a first round with more than 50 percent.

A survey by the Center of Contemporary Reality Studies, or
CERC, released on Thursday showed Bachelet, of the ruling
center-left coalition, with 41 percent support, down slightly
from 42 percent in October.

Bachelet, a former defense minister, would be Chile's first
woman president if she wins, and the fourth leader in a row
from the same political group that has run the country since
1990, when the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship ended.

Center-right opposition candidate Sebastian Pinera had 22
percent support, up from 16 percent in the prior CERC poll.
Joaquin Lavin, a more conservative opposition candidate, had 19
percent, up from 17 percent in CERC's October survey.

The poll showed leftist Tomas Hirsch with 7 percent
support, and 10 percent of those interviewed said they were
undecided or would leave their ballot blank or spoil it when
they vote on December 11.

"Since Sebastian Pinera had three more points than Joaquin
Lavin .... he is the one in the best shape to go on to a second
round," said CERC director Carlos Hunneus at a news conference.

The poll showed that if Bachelet and Pinera faced each
other in a second round on January 15, she would win with 50
percent of the vote compared with his 35 percent.

Pinera, an investment banker and former senator, is one of
Chile's wealthiest men. He jumped into the race in May to the
surprise of Lavin, who thought he had the backing of both
parties in the right-wing coalition.

Chile's election authorities do not count blank or spoiled
ballots when calculating vote percentages. Since registered
voters are required by law to vote, many who are undecided or
do not like the choices spoil their ballots.

CERC projected that when counting only the valid ballots in
the first round, Bachelet will win with 46 percent, followed by
Sebastian 25 percent, Lavin 21 percent and Hirsch 7 percent.

Bachelet is a Socialist and is expected to continue the
leftist social policies and fiscal discipline of popular
outgoing President Ricardo Lagos.

Two other recent polls have shown Bachelet with 39 percent
support, falling from highs of 45 percent and more earlier this

CERC interviewed 1,200 adults face to face between November
24 and December 3 in 29 cities with more than 40,000
inhabitants, which represents 70 percent of the population.

"If the sample were probabilistic it would have an
estimated error of 2.34 for a confidence level of 95 percent,"
CERC said.