Chilean presidential hopeful Pinera pledges infrastructure spending

Reuters News
Posted: May 05, 2017 9:35 AM

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Sebastian Pinera, the front-runner to win Chile's 2017 presidential election, promised on Wednesday to push for a $20 billion infrastructure spending program and emphasize economic growth as he outlined his policy proposals.

The conservative candidate, who previously led Chile between 2010 and 2014, looks to be assured of securing the backing of the right-wing Chile Vamos coalition during its primary in July.

Pinera left office with low popularity ratings but is hoping to make a comeback on the back of disgruntlement with the center-left government of President Michelle Bachelet and deep divisions within her coalition.

"In the past three years we have lost our path and rhythm and stagnated," Pinera said in a policy document published on Wednesday.

He pledged to focus on job creation, tackle delinquency, and improve education, health and pensions, all of which surveys show are key issues for Chileans.

Pinera's program suggests he will make tweaks rather than radical changes to the policies of top copper exporter Chile, regarded as a Latin American economic success story despite a recent slowdown in economic growth.

Most eye-catching is a pledge to invest $20 billion over eight years in public-private infrastructure projects, including new highways and airports and the continued extension of Santiago's metro system.

The tax system, which was overhauled by Bachelet, would be simplified, without the overall burden changing but with possible changes to corporate taxes, according to Pinera's program. A controversial labor reform to strengthen unions that recently became law would also be revised, it said.

Under Pinera's program, pension contributions would rise to 14 percent from the current 10 percent, to address widespread discontent that the nation's privatized pension system has left retirees struggling. Bachelet's government has said it plans to increase contributions to 15 percent.

Polls suggest Pinera has a healthy lead over his nearest opponent, leftist Alejandro Guillier, in the first round of the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 19, but that a second round run-off would likely be close.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Paul Simao)