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Billionaire Media Magnate Becomes Chile President

PTI 18 Jan 2010, 10:03:12 AM IST

A billionaire media magnate, Sebastian Pinera, is to become the next president of Chile after a runoff election Sunday that put an end to a 20-year hold on power by the leftwing coalition of outgoing head-of-state Michelle Bachelet.

Bachelet's defeated candidate, Eduardo Frei, a former president himself, conceded defeat after an official count of most ballots showed Pinera had picked up 52 percent to his 48 percent.

Bachelet was constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

The victory by Pinera, 60, marked the defeat of the Concertacion coalition of four leftwing and centrist parties that had governed Chile since the 1990 exit of dictator General August Pinochet.

The billionaire, who owns one of Chile's four television networks and a big stake in flagship airline LAN among many other business interests, is seen likely to continue social policies that left Bachelet with skyhigh popularity ratings of around 80 percent.

He promised though, that the change represented by his victory would be "like opening the window to let fresh air in."

Pinera easily won the first round of the presidential elections on December 13, but then saw his lead narrow to a statistical dead heat with Frei as Bachelet leveraged her popularity in defense of her candidate.

In the end, he squeaked through, according to an official count from 60 percent of polling stations. Complete results were expected by the early hours of Monday.