September 1, 2017 / 3:54 PM / a year ago

Pinera maintains healthy lead in Chilean presidential race, poll shows

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera is maintaining a solid lead in the polls for the nation’s November election, leading pollster CEP said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Sebastian Pinera, former Chilean President and current presidential candidate, poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters in Santiago, Chile August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza/File Photo

In the first round of voting, billionaire Pinera would take 31.3 percent of the vote, up from 24 percent in CEP’s last poll released in June. Center-left Senator Alejandro Guillier would take 14.5 percent up from 13 percent in the last survey, while hard-left Beatriz Sanchez would take 10.2 percent, up from 5 percent previously.

FILE PHOTO - Centre-left Chilean senator and presidential candidate Alejandro Guillier delivers a speech at a businessman conference in Santiago, Chile August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The survey also showed that a number of minor candidates with no more than 2 percent support were failing to gain significant traction.

The poll showed that Pinera, a former president who governed Chile from 2010 to 2014, would win against either rival in a potential run-off, beating Guillier 39 percent to 31 percent and Sanchez 39 percent to 27 percent, while a large proportion of Chileans would not vote.

The poll, which is based on interviews with 1,419 people from July 21 to Aug. 17, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

FILE PHOTO - Hard-left Chilean presidential candidate Beatriz Sanchez delivers a speech at a businessman conference in Santiago, Chile August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A Pinera win would be welcomed by the Chilean business community which blames current President Michelle Bachelet and her center-left coalition of stoking market uncertainty in the world’s top copper exporter.

However, it would disappoint Bachelet’s base, as well as a younger generation of urban Chileans who are demanding deep changes to the South American nation’s free-market economic model.

Though Pinera continues to be the odds-on favourite, the poll is also a boost of confidence for Sanchez, a journalist representing the newly formed Frente Amplio movement. With proposals such as raising mining taxes by billions of dollars and throwing out the current semi-privatized social security system, Sanchez’s movement is something of a novelty for one of Latin America’s most conservative countries.

The election is scheduled for Nov. 19, but if no candidate receives more than 50 percent in the first round, it will go to a December run-off.

Among the key events that the poll did not include was the resignation on Thursday of Bachelet’s economic team, including the finance minister, after a disagreement over a $2.5 billion mining project. That development could hurt Guillier, who is most closely associated with the current government.

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Alistair Bell and Phil Berlowitz

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