SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean conservative presidential candidate Pablo Longueira unexpectedly quit his campaign due to depression, his son said on Wednesday afternoon, dealing another blow to an already weakened right-wing bloc four months from the general election.
His departure could boost the already strong chances former centre-left leader Michelle Bachelet will regain the presidency in the November 17 election or a potential December 15 runoff.
"Our father is sick. After the election in the (right-wing bloc's) primaries, following some days of rest, his health deteriorated due to depression that have been medically diagnosed," son Juan Pablo Longueira said in a televised news conference.
Longueira became the conservative UDI party's candidate after businessman Laurence Golborne abandoned his presidential candidacy in April over a billing scandal and allegations of undeclared offshore assets.
He went on to squeak by in the June 30 primaries to beat rival Andres Allamand, who hails from President Sebastian Pinera's Renovacion Nacional party. Pinera is barred by the constitution from running for a second consecutive term.
The UDI party said it would meet on Thursday to select a replacement for Longueira, a veteran politician and former minister who was close to former dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Regardless of who the right-wing candidate ends up being, Bachelet, an affable paediatrician-turned-politician who governed the world's top copper-exporting nation from 2006 to 2010, is seen returning to the La Moneda presidential palace.
"The only candidate who is emerging from this tempest (unscathed) is Bachelet," said Marta Lagos, the head of pollster MORI. "If candidates continue with these types of surprises, this could end up being a proclamation."
Conservative candidates are also dogged by the legacy of unpopular Pinera, a gaffe-prone billionaire who has struggled to connect with ordinary Chileans.
Should a split right-wing bloc decide to send two candidates into the general election, some analysts say Bachelet could end up triumphing in November without need for a run-off.
But others say more candidates, including independents and those from smaller parties who are planning to run, could push the election into a December run-off.
Bachelet has promised to tackle Chile's steep economic inequality by raising corporate taxes to fund free university-level education, legalize abortion in some cases and reform the Pinochet-era constitution.
Reporting by Santiago newsroom; Additional reporting by Anthony Esposito and Fabian Cambero; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bob Burgdorfer