Chile's Lagos bows out of presidential race


Former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos ruled out running in next year's presidential race today, leaving the ruling but weakened center-left coalition without its main contender.

"I am not, nor will I be, a presidential candidate," Mr Lagos said at a news conference in the capital Santiago. He completed his 2000-2006 term as Chile's most popular president since the late General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship ended in 1990.

"I don't see running for president as my best contribution to the country, but rather collaborating in the renewal of ideas and efforts to better serve," he added. He announced his decision after months sitting on the fence.

President Michelle Bachelet's ruling Concertacion coalition, which has ruled Chile since the dictatorship, has not yet chosen a candidate for the 2009 presidential race. Bachelet is not eligible to run for re-election.

Possible hopefuls include another former president, Eduardo Frei.

Former Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear, another of the coalition's clutch of presidential hopefuls, ditched her own bid in October after a poor showing in municipal elections.

That leaves Mr Frei and Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The coalition has been battered by protests and scandals in recent months that have helped to boost rightist rivals ahead of what is seen as the toughest presidential race since the return to democracy two decades ago.

Polls tip a center-right billionaire, Sebastian Pinera, to win the 2009 presidential vote. But analysts say the two coalitions dominating Chilean politics will both need to forge alliances with centrist independents. They also predict it will be a close race.

Ricardo Isarel, a political analyst who has now joined a political party made up of breakaway members of the Concertacion, believes Lagos could have a change of heart if the coalition's member parties halt infighting and rally together.

"If he has pulled out for good, that leaves Insulza as the candidate for the left of the Concertacion, and Frei as the Concertacion's strongest overall candidate," he said.