SANTIAGO Former Defence Minister Andres Allamand ruled out running in Chile's November presidential election on Tuesday, increasing the likelihood a fractured right wing will rally behind a conservative female economist to try to beat favoured ex-President Michelle Bachelet.
The moderate Allamand, who resigned as defence minister in November, had been seen as one of the right's best hopes to woo voters away from the popular centre-left Bachelet. His centre-right Renovacion National and the more conservation Union Democrata Independiente are joined in the Alianza coalition.
Having lost to the UDI's Pablo Longueira in a June primar, Allamand's star seemed to be rising again when Longueira unexpectedly dropped his bid last week due to ill health.
But on Tuesday Allamand definitively ruled himself out as a presidential candidate in 2013 and suggested that his move would increase the probability that his party would back Evelyn Matthei, an economist chosen as a candidate on Saturday by the UDI.
"I am sure that my absolute withdrawal from the presidential scenario will contribute to that (agreeing on a single candidate) happening," he told reporters outside his party's headquarters in Santiago, where officials have been locked in talks.
Allamand's party could still declare support for an alternative candidate, but his decision to withdraw makes it probable that Matthei will go head to head with Bachelet in the Latin American country's general election on November 17, the first time the two frontrunners would be women.
They will also face a number of candidates from smaller parties and independents, which may push the election to a December 15 runoff.
Bachelet, a Social Democrat, was president from 2006 to 2010 then headed a United Nations organization for women. She quit that job earlier this year to run for president. Chile's constitution prohibits a leader from serving for two consecutive terms, so current conservative President Sebastian Pinera is not in contention.
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)