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Last Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005, 15:35 GMT
Chile press sees all to play for
Michelle Bachelet
Bachelet will face a strong right wing challenge in the run-off

Newspapers in Chile believe the outcome of the presidential election is far from a foregone conclusion, although there is a consensus that Michelle Bachelet is likely to be the nation's first woman president when the votes are counted after the January run-off.

The fact that polling took place in a peaceful atmosphere is a source of pride for some commentators, who say it shows Chile is maturing politically and has laid to rest the era of military rule.

La Nacion describes "the soporific calm" which lay over the capital, Santiago, on polling day, caused partly by the heat and partly because of "the certainty the elections would not prove to be traumatic".

People voted "keenly, but without fear, as in the type of mature democracies that the country aspires to emulate".

Support for an agnostic, separated woman like Bachelet shows a dramatic shift in values
The Santiago Times

"Thus, one important milestone along the road of Chilean democracy was reached, and another with new hopes and possibilities was embarked upon," the paper says.

For The Santiago Times, "support for an agnostic, separated woman like Bachelet shows a dramatic shift in values in this traditionally conservative and Roman Catholic country".

The Times is encouraged that such changes can come about in a country where divorce was legalised only last year "and where 'machismo' or male chauvinism is strong".

Several papers, including La Tercera, make the point that the outcome of the presidential run-off is nowhere near as clear-cut as some seem to think, and there could be tricky times ahead for Ms Bachelet.

La Tercera says that although she won more votes than her rivals, the momentum of her campaign was flagging towards the end, "which leaves a rather bitter taste in her camp and gives a boost to her rival".

"All of this poses a risk to her," the paper believes, arguing that she will need to reformulate her strategy to ensure she maintains her current support while attracting the votes of those who voted for the two right-wing candidates.

"The second round means a completely new campaign from start to finish," concludes La Tercera.

'Let down'

La Hora quotes Ms Bachelet's campaign manager as saying she was let down by party activists who "thought the opinion polls indicated the result was a foregone conclusion and sat with their arms crossed rather than doing enough to secure a first round victory".

This echoes remarks made on Chilean TV by the candidate herself: "The result could have been better. Perhaps our message did not reach everybody with the necessary clarity."

Quoted in the daily La Segunda when she knew a second round was looming, Ms Bachelet said: "We women are used to working twice as hard."

The campaign will become intense and exhausting in the weeks ahead
La Nacion

According to The Santiago Times, "most analysts attributed Bachelet's flagging support to campaign fatigue and inroads made by opposing candidates on both flanks of her campaign".

Looking to the immediate future, La Nacion forecasts that "the campaign will become intense and exhausting in the weeks ahead.

"Bachelet will seek to prove she has nothing in common with her rival, while Pinera will have to juggle to win the centre votes without losing the right-wing voters who supported Lavin."

Some newspapers look to the time when the new president takes office and the challenges and opportunities they will face.

El Mercurio points to recent constitutional reforms which will give whoever becomes president more powers, especially the reduction of the status of the national security council to an advisory capacity, minimising the influence of military leaders.

The Santiago Times highlights a pressing problem: "While Chile's economy has grown impressively under three successive Concertacion (leftist) governments, little change has occurred in the huge income disparities."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

Country profile: Chile
12 Dec 05 |  Country profiles

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