In the most polarized elections in decades, Chile votes for continuation or retreat of transformations

Chile goes to the polls this Sunday for the most polarized and uncertain presidential elections since the return of democracy in 1990. The latest polls point to a fragmentation and emptying of the center, and a likely dispute in the second round between Gabriel Boric, young leader of the left , and José Antonio Kast, veteran of the toughest Chilean right. Although the polls were very wrong in the last votes, if the scenario is confirmed, on December 19th, the reaffirmation or containment of the transformations that broke out in 2019 will be at stake, channeled to the Constitutional Convention in progress, in charge of burying the written Letter in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

In everything, the candidates are opposed: Boric proposes a change in the economic model, with greater participation by the State, to be financed with increases in taxes on the upper classes. It also proposes behavioral guidelines, such as legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage.

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Kast, on the other hand, seeks not only the continuation of the current situation, but a return to the values ​​of the past. In economics, he proposes more liberalization — his favorite name to take over the portfolio is José Piñera, brother of the president and one of the original Chicago Boys. In customs, it proposes the rehabilitation of the legacy of the military dictatorship and greater influence of the Catholic Church.

meteoric ascent

Kast had a meteoric rise, calling himself the option of the right in place of the moderation of the candidate who won the center-right primaries, Sebastián Sichel, who said he wanted to “build a liberal identity of the center”. The candidate of the Republican Party, founded by him in 2019, raised the banners of order and security against instability. Faced with an economic crisis, incendiary protests in ancestral Mapuche lands in the South and a migration crisis in the North, he said he was the candidate of “common sense”:

“They call us bigots and extremists for telling the truth and speaking out.” Unlike the left, we never support violence,” Kast said.

Campaigns: At the end of the campaigns in Chile, Boric defends more social rights, and Kast exalts the legacy of the dictatorship

For Stéphanie Allenda, a sociologist at the Andrés Bello University, the current discredit towards the Chilean right is due to the second government of Sebastián Piñera.

— This disenchantment is particularly due to Piñera’s government. There are factors related to the management of the pandemic, the management of social upheaval and the government’s inability to configure a sufficiently motivating speech for the electorate – he says. — This proposal needed to be center-right, more modern, which Sichel tried to do, with many difficulties, linked to his candidacy and his own mistakes.

Attachment to the dictatorship began to erode Kast towards the end of the campaign. After the sham elections in Nicaragua, he suggested that Pinochet was not a dictator, “because he handed over power and made a transition to democracy” in 1989.

The repercussion of the speech was terrible, and it was followed by a weak participation in the last debate, on Monday, where he was embarrassed when Boric listed points of his program as the end of the Ministry of Women and the increase of pensions only for military personnel. Kast is also a well-known political figure, having been head of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI). This can set him apart from anti-system phenoms like Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. Unlike them, he expresses himself in a calm tone:

“Kast remains too attached to traditional sectors of politics to appear outsider,” said Claudia Heiss, a political scientist at the University of Chile.

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His 35-year-old opponent Boric began his political career as a student leader in 2011 and was elected deputy in 2013. On an openly left-wing ticket — in addition to the Frente Amplio, his party, is part of the Communist Party, which identifies itself as Marxist-Leninist — the candidate sought to distance himself from accusations of radicalism, being harsh in public speeches against authoritarian regimes such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In the economy, Boric proposes to increase collections by 8%, taxing large fortunes and reducing tax exemptions, in order to expand the social safety net – for example, creating a public welfare system. Its main message has been that structural changes are possible without creating chaos.

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“Don’t get caught up in this strategy that everything must go the same or disaster will come,” Boric said at his last rally.

In addition to the presidency, Chileans will vote for councilors, all deputies and part of the senators. Governability will be a challenge for any of the winners, who should not have a majority. The relationship with the Constitutional Convention will also depend on the winner. Boric has an affinity with the body, while Kast has already declared that he supports the “reject” in the plebiscite foreseen on the new Charter in preparation.

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According to Juan Pablo Luna, a political scientist at the Catholic University, for the next government to be successful it will need to “drive an agenda for change gradually and with dialogue” . According to him, Boric is better positioned, at least “in symbolic terms and in the short term”.

“If Kast governs with members of the Piñera government and a tight-fisted agenda, he will quickly be in trouble.

Dispersion in research

The dissemination of research within Chile is prohibited. In the last consultation of the AtlasIntel institute, released only abroad the day before yesterday, Kast has 24.6% of the valid votes, Boric has 20.2%, the anti-system populist Franco Parisi — who spent the entire campaign in the USA, where he lives — has 15 .8%, liberal Sebastián Sichel has 12.7% and Yasna Provoste, from the centre-left, 12.5%. Except for the first two, all candidates were discharged. In the second round, Kast and Boric are in a technical tie, with 50.3% and 49.7%.

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According to Andrei Roman, president of the institute, “Chile is discovering at the last minute that perhaps there were better options to Boric and Kast”:

“But the sprawl of applications and the lack of time makes it difficult to pass them,” said Roman.

The biggest possibility of a surprise is related to electoral participation. The referendum that approved the Constituent Assembly with almost 80% of the votes, in October of last year, mobilized a lot of young people, but fewer older people. This was partly due to the theme and the uncontrolled pandemic. Now, all ages can go to the polls.

“An election like this, with two such different candidates, can motivate a higher-than-average turnout,” said Federica Sanchez Staniak of Albert Hurtado University.