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Bachelet tipped to become Chile's first female president

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Santiago de Chile (dpa) - Socialist Michelle Bachelet was on Saturday the clear favourite to win Chile's presidential elections scheduled for the following day, and likely to become the country's first-ever female leader.

Pollsters however doubted that Bachelet, 54, would achieve the required 50 per cent overall majority in voting Sunday and predicted instead that her victory would be secured in the planned January 15 runoff between the leading two candidates.

Bachelet, a medical doctor representing the ruling government coalition, is lining up against two conservative candidates, businessman Sebastian Pinera, 56, of the National Renovation (RN) party and Joaquin Lavin, 52, of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), as well as Communist Tomas Hirsch.

However pre-election polls gave the three rivals to Bachelet little chance among the country's largely social democratic electorate.

If elected, Bachelet will replace President Ricardo Lagos at the head of a coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists and two smaller parties that has ruled since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1990.

Bachelet, whose father was tortured to death by the secret police because of his opposition to the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, has held both the health and defence ministerial portfolios in previous governments, the latter having done much to earn her widespread support among Chilean men.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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