Chileans went to the polls Sunday to choose a new president from among nine candidates, with Socialist Michelle Bachelet and her reform platform favored to win.
Bachelet, 62, holds a commanding lead, with opinion polls showing the ex-president close to the 50 percent needed to win in the first round of balloting and avoid a runoff vote.
Bachelet beamed and appeared confident as she cast her ballot at a polling station in a school east of Santiago.
"Our effort has been to urge people to get out and vote so we can win in the first round, because there are plenty of things to do," she told reporters.
Pre-vote surveys showed Bachelet with 47 percent support, but once the blank and spoiled votes are included, she could end up with the votes necessary to avoid a runoff.
A pediatrician who was Chile's first woman president from 2006 to 2010, Bachelet seeks to overhaul the country's political and economic system, a legacy of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
Bachelet wants to raise business taxes to offer free university, answering the demands of a powerful student movement that led a series of massive protests since 2011.
The daughter of an air force general and separated mother of three, Bachelet is supported by a "New Majority" alliance of socialists, Christian Democrats and communists.
Chile has the best GDP per capita in Latin America - $22,362 based on purchasing power parity, but half of the nation's 17 million people make less than $500 per month.
Bachelet has pledged to bring a "new cycle" of reforms to reverse the country's wide income gap.
Outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, who cannot run for re-election and took office when Bachelet's first term ended in 2010, earlier made a fervent call for a strong turnout.
Evelyn Matthei, the conservative candidate and the distant runner-up in the polls, said after voting that she was certain that she would be in a run-off vote.
"In the end, the only valid poll is the one today," she said after casting her ballot.
The 60 year-old Matthei, a former labor minister under Pinera and former legislator for the ultraconservative Independent Democratic Union, has 14 percent support according to pre-vote surveys.
She has called for a continuation of the legacy of the deeply unpopular Pinera, claiming that a Bachelet victory would represent a move backwards.
Matthei was the second choice conservative candidate after the first choice, Pablo Longueira, declined nomination due to depression.
Competing for third place are independent economist Franco Parisi, a surprise candidate who jumped into the political arena less than a year ago, and filmmaker Marco Enriquez Ominami, who in 2009 won 20 percent of the presidential vote but is not expected to score more than 10 percent this year.
In one novelty, for the first time since democracy was restored in 1990 voting is no longer compulsory.