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Chilean leaders face poll run-off

Bachelet bids to become Chile's first female president

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SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- A onetime political prisoner vying to become Chile's first female president will face a conservative airline and broadcasting tycoon in a January 15 runoff after falling short of a majority in Sunday's presidential election.

Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist, led her rivals by a wide margin in Sunday's election.

But with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Bachelet had just 45.9 percent of the vote -- short of the 50 percent-plus needed for an outright win, according to results from the country's Interior Ministry.

Her closest rival was Sebastian Pinera, a conservative, Harvard-trained economist and the owner of the Chilean airline LAN, who had 25.5 percent of the vote.

Another conservative, Joaquin Lavin, conceded defeat after garnering just 23.3 percent and endorsed Pinera in the runoff.

"The people have spoken. That's how democracy works," Lavin said.

"I'm going to go in a few minutes to congratulate Sebastian, to offer him all my support and to tell him I'm willing to keep working with the same enthusiasm which I've shown in my own campaign so that Sebastian Pinera is the next president of Chile."

Leftist candidate Tomas Hirsch trailed the pack with 5.3 percent.

Bachelet spent five years in exile after the 1973 coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power.

Her father, an air force general, was tortured to death after the coup, and Bachelet herself was tortured before being sent into exile in Australia.

She completed her training as a pediatrician in East Germany and served as health minister in Chile's center-left government before taking on the defense portfolio under outgoing President Ricardo Lagos.

"What I want, and have and will always work for, is to build a society in which what happened to me and so many Chileans can never be repeated," she said.

Bachelet, 54, has promised that, if elected, she would name women to half of the country's Cabinet posts. As a professed agnostic and a single mother, she is an anomaly in a traditional, largely Catholic country.

Pinera, 56, is the billionaire owner of LAN and the broadcaster TV Chilevision. He has drawn comparisons to Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Pinera says he is "younger and more handsome" than Berlusconi -- and unlike the Italian leader, he vows to sell his extensive holdings if he wins to avoid any conflict of interest.

He has promised to use market-oriented policies to bridge the enormous disparity between Chile's rich and poor.

"I am not just a person who only deals with ideas. I can also work with my hands," Pinera said. "I can transform ideas into projects and turn these projects into reality."

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