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FILE PHOTO: Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (L) greets the crowd after signing an economic investment protocol in Cartagena city February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez(reuters_tickers)
By Gram Slattery
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Former Chilean President Sebastian Pinera cruised to victory on Sunday in the presidential nominating election for Chile's right-leaning Alianza bloc, consolidating his place as the front-runner for November's general election.
With 93 percent of votes counted, investor favourite Pinera, 67, a billionaire who governed Chile from 2010 to 2014, had 57 percent of Alianza votes cast, the country's electoral service Servel said.
That represented a decisive win over right-wing populist Manuel Jose Ossandon and the more socially liberal Felipe Kast, who had 28 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
"I think Pinera had a very good showing. He has double what Ossandon has," said Kenneth Bunker, an analyst and academic at Universidad Central de Chile. "It's going to be a good way for him to build bridges in the second part of his campaign."
Chile's relatively minor left-wing Frente Amplio coalition also held its primaries on Sunday, with journalist Beatriz Sanchez easily beating sociologist Alberto Mayol as expected.
Sunday's results narrow Chile's presidential field to four major candidates and Pinera's decisive win will be welcome by the business community in one of South America's most stable and affluent countries.
Investors blame a flurry of economic reforms by centre-left President Michelle Bachelet for sowing uncertainty.
Pinera's presidency saw rapid economic expansion but was marred by massive student protests seeking an education overhaul. His administration's responses were often seen as out of touch and social groups continue to oppose him.
"In addition to getting Chile going again... we have a clear social commitment," Pinera said in a victory speech. "We want to build a more just Chile."
According to a June poll by CEP Pinera leads the November election with around 24 percent of the vote. Leftist journalist Alejandro Guillier of the centre-left Nueva Mayoria bloc, which skipped primaries, is in second place with 13 percent.
Sanchez followed with 5 percent, while Carolina Goic of the centrist Christian Democratic Party is trailing with 2 percent.
Bachelet is not allowed to seek a consecutive term under Chile's constitution.
If no candidate receives 50 percent in the first round in November as expected, the election will go to a run-off in December. That race would likely be much tighter, particularly if the now fractured left unifies around one candidate.
Turnout for Alianza's primary exceeded expectations of 1 million votes, while recently created Frente Amplio received a more modest 300,000 votes.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Sandra Maler)