Chilean voters will have the choice, in the second round of the presidential election, between two political models at the opposite ends. According to results covering 95.58% of the ballots, José Antonio Kast for the ultra-conservative right, and Gabriel Boric for the left, are the two winners of the Sunday November 21 poll.
José Antonio Kast, a 55-year-old former MP and lawyer, won 27.95% of the vote, ahead of Gabriel Boric, a former student leader and 35-year-old MP, who won 25.71% of the vote. Both were favorites in the most recent polls, falling outside the right-wing and center-left coalitions that have ruled the country since the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). The second round will take place on December 19.
Gabriel Boric, the candidate of the left-wing coalition “Apruebo dignidad” which includes the communists in particular, could count on the support of many young Chileans, who aspire to a more egalitarian society, after the unprecedented wave of social protest at the end of 2019.
“The country needs changes, we have had enough of the same politicians”, 24-year-old student Felipe Rojas told Agence France-Presse (AFP) outside a polling station in the capital. “We want to vote, enough of this Chile”, impatient Carla Fuenzalida, 19.
Unprecedented rise of the far right
But the last few months have also seen an unprecedented rise of the far right in the polls, fueled by the persistence of violence by the most radical protesters, and the growing concerns of voters over illegal immigration and crime. Especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has raised unemployment, widened the debt and that inflation is now close to 6%, a novelty in this country which has experienced decades of political and economic stability. He was the only one of the seven candidates running in the first round to wish to keep the funded private pension scheme, much criticized during the 2019 challenge.
“You have to come and vote to turn this page of division and disorder in the streets”, Cristina Arellano, a 42-year-old accountant, who came to vote in Ñuñoa, a bourgeois district of the capital, told AFP.
Some 15 million voters – out of a population of 19 million – were called to the polls to decide between seven presidential candidates, to renew the entire Chamber of Deputies, half of the Senate, as well as the regional councils. In Chile, voting is no longer compulsory since 2012. No figures were yet available on participation.
José Antiono Kast shows his sympathy for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, but refuses to be labeled a far-right. The leader of the Republican Party movement wants to maintain the neoliberal model inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship and promises to impose “Order, security and freedom”. Its economic program proposes to reduce public spending, reduce taxes and eliminate several ministries, including that of the status of women.
“The main thing[isthat)everyonecanexpressthemselvesfreely”[estque)chacunpuisses’exprimerlibrement », said the father of nine, after voting in Paine, 37 km south of Santiago.
“May hope prevail over fear”
Gabriel Boric, the youngest presidential candidate in the history of the South American country and who is just of legal age to compete for the presidency of the country, promises a model of the welfare state and the guarantee of social rights. “May hope prevail over fear”, he said while voting in his hometown of Punta Arenas, in the far south of the country. “We represent the process of change and transformation that is happening” .
In 2011, he took the lead in high school and student demonstrations for a “Free education”in one of the countries where the majority of education is in the private sector. In 2019, he supported the protests for more social justice and played a role, as an MP, in the signing of the historic agreement in Parliament for the organization of a referendum on a change of Constitution, finally voted for by 79% of Chileans.
The liberal right-wing candidate, Franco Parisi, who lives in Alabama, in the United States, and did not set foot in Chile during the entire election campaign, surprised by rising to third place (13% ), ahead of center-left senator Yasna Provoste (12%) and right-wing ruling candidate Sebastian Sichel (12%), according to partial results.
Conservative President Sebastian Piñera, 71, who will step down in March 2022, could not stand for re-election after two terms (2010-2014, re-elected in 2017).
This election takes place in a Chile in transition, in the process of drafting a new Constitution and two years after an unprecedented social crisis to demand a fairer society in this country rich in copper, but among the most unequal in the world, according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).