June 2, 2017 / 6:13 PM / 6 months ago

Pinera consolidating lead for Chile presidency, poll shows

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Conservative former president Sebastian Pinera has pulled further ahead of centre-left hopeful Alejandro Guillier in Chile’s presidential race, but the two remain the favourites to face off in the November election, a closely watched poll showed on Friday.

When asked who they would like to be the next president of Chile, 24 percent of respondents backed Pinera, with 13 percent selecting Guillier, according to the CEP poll.

That compared with 20 percent for Pinera and 14 percent for Guillier in December.

The election will give Chileans a chance to decide whether they want a continuation of President Michelle Bachelet’s tax-and-spend approach to reducing inequality. Pinera has criticized her policies as irresponsible, but powerful social movements are demanding yet deeper reforms.

Bachelet herself is constitutionally barred from running for a consecutive term.

Guillier appears to have lost ground to other candidates. In particular, leftist Beatriz Sanchez, who is backed by popular former student movement leaders who are now lawmakers, is garnering support among young, metropolitan voters.

Sanchez, whose Frente Amplio coalition says it wants the state rather than the market to provide education, health and pensions, still has just 5 percent of support, the poll showed.

However, Sanchez, who entered the race in March and is still a relative unknown, receives the highest approval rating of any politician among those who have heard of her.

More than 40 percent of respondents were still undecided on how they would vote.

Pinera, a billionaire who ran Chile between 2010 and 2014, was seen as an uncharismatic, unpopular leader, but he has benefited from relatively united backing from right-wing parties and widespread disillusionment with Bachelet’s administration.

Political newcomer Guillier initially polled well as Chileans warmed to his fresh message, but he has lost momentum as his campaign has struggled to articulate clear policies and other candidates on the left, including Sanchez, have split the vote.

If no candidate obtains 50 percent or more of the vote in November, the election goes to a runoff in December.

In a second round, Guillier would lose to Pinera by 29 percent to 33 percent, the poll showed. A survey in April also showed a close result.

CEP polled 1,481 people between April 26 and May 22, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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