Chile's opposition yesterday officially launched centrist leader Patricio Aylwin as its presidential candidate for December's ballot, effectively kicking off the race to succeed military ruler Augusto Pinochet. Aylwin, who led the opposition to victory in last October's plebiscite on Pinochet rule, is the candidate for a 17-party alliance ranging from conservative former supporters of military rule to the Marxist left, party leaders announced.

Alywin is head of the Christian Democrats, Chile's largest party. He is seeking to become the country's first civilian President since Socialist leader Salvador Allende, who was elected 20 years ago. Allende died in the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power.

With Chile's political right in disarray, polls suggest the 70-year-old lawyer should win the Dec. 14 vote. The conservative parties have yet to agree on a standard-bearer to lead them in the electoral battle.

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