SANTIAGO, Chile – The conservative coalition's candidate in the Chilean presidential campaign has dropped out of the race because he suffers from depression, his son said Wednesday.
The surprise resignation by Pablo Longueira was expected to further weaken the chances for the governing conservatives to beat former President Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party, who is the front-runner for the Nov. 17 vote.
"Our father is sick," the son, Juan Pablo Longueira, said at a news conference. "After the primary election, and after taking some days of rest, his health deteriorated as a result of a bout of depression that was medically diagnosed."
Longueira, 55, is a former economy minister and one of the founding members of the conservative Independent Democratic Union that supported Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.
He entered the race three months ago when Laurence Golborne, a businessman who had been seen as the center-right's best hope for holding on to power, was forced out by a financial scandal. Longueira, who supports free-market economic policies and opposes gay marriage and abortion, won a primary held last month by the center-right Alliance for Chile bloc to choose its candidate to replace conservative President Sebastian Pinera.
"We respect any decision taken by him," Patricio Melero, head of the Independent Democratic Union, said at news conference in the port city of Valparaiso.
"Once he knew of this illness that is troubling him, and taking into consideration the opinion of doctors, he was brave to make this decision that puts the interest of the country above anything else," Melero said.
Party leaders will meet Thursday to pick a replacement for Longueira, an industrial engineer by training and a career politician who was close to Pinochet.
"This was such a surprising event. It wasn't considered under any political scenario because the campaign is on its final stretch. This is a crisis for the right-wing coalition," said Guillermo Holzmann, a political science professor at the Universidad de Valparaiso.
"This political crisis gives Bachelet an important electoral advantage," Holzmann said.
Bachelet, who ended her 2006-10 presidency with high popularity ratings, is campaigning on promises to use a second term to fight Chile's vast income inequality, change the Pinochet-era constitution and reform taxes and education.
"This has shocked me for many reasons, but above all as a human being," Bachelet said after hearing of Longueira's decision.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.