Chilean senator named presidential candidate of center-left party

Chilean journalist-turned senator Alejandro Guillier accepted the presidential nomination of the center-left Radical Party on Saturday with promises to deepen education reforms and revamp the private pension system.

Guillier, an independent anti-establishment senator who was little known nationally a year ago, has risen rapidly in opinion polls to become a favorite in the November presidential election alongside center-right ex-president Sebastian Pinera.

The Radical Party’s nomination of Guillier bolsters his chances of becoming the center-left ruling coalition New Majority’s candidate.

“I appreciate the support and trust the Radical Party is offering me. I certainly accept the invitation,” Guillier said in a ceremony before thousands of cheering supporters. “This will be a long-term union for moving forward. We’re going to conquer the majority and bring stability to Chile.”

Guillier vowed to build on reforms in President Michelle Bachelet’s government aimed at making education more affordable and criticized the country’s private pension funds, known as AFPs, for investing nearly half of its assets abroad.

Bachelet, of the center-left Socialist Party, cannot run for another term in 2017 because of constitutional term limits.

“The AFP system has failed,” Guillier said. “If we keep taking money out of Chile we’re going to go anemic because there’s no blood in the economy.”

Leaving journalism for politics in 2013, Guillier has painted himself as a change from the status quo and a “transition” to the next generation, a cluster of popular ex-student leaders who are too young to run for the highest office.

One poll this week showed Pinera, a conservative billionaire, only slightly ahead of Guillier while another survey put Pinera ahead by six percentage points.