Thursday, January 27

Chile’s polarizing presidential elections pit a leftist against a Pinochet fan

Chileans are electing their next president on Sunday after a polarization campaign between a far-right activist and a young former student protest leader.

José Antonio Kast, a lawmaker who has a history of defending the past military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, finished ahead in the first round of voting last month but failed to obtain a majority of votes.

That set up a head-to-head runoff against Gabriel Boric, who trailed him by about two percentage points.

Boric, a former student activist on the left, vowed to tackle rampant inequality in Latin America’s most advanced economy.

Victory will come with a precedent either way.

Since the return of democracy three decades ago, no candidate who leads after the first round has been defeated in the second round, but no president has been elected without winning in the capital, Santiago, which Boric carried comfortably in the first round.

Opinion polls in recent days have consistently shown an advantage for Boric, but the small advantage indicates that the race is likely to be decided by the candidate who wins over the majority of voters who do not side with political extremes.

The two candidates are considered poles apart.

Kast, 55, a devout Catholic and father of nine, emerged from the far-right fringes after winning less than 8 percent of the vote in 2017.

He rose steadily in the polls this time with a divisive speech that emphasizes conservative family values ​​and plays on Chileans’ fears that increased migration, from Haiti and Venezuela, is fueling crime.

Kast has a history of attacking Chile’s LGBTQ community and defending more restrictive abortion laws. He also accused outgoing president Sebastián Piñera, a fellow conservative, of betraying the economic legacy of Pinochet, a figure he openly admires.

Kast’s brother, Miguel, was one of Pinochet’s top advisers.

Boric, 35, would become Chile’s youngest modern president. He was one of several activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for higher quality education.

If elected, he said, he will “bury” the neoliberal economic model left by Pinochet and increase taxes on the “super-rich” to expand social services, combat inequality – especially those that affect women and indigenous peoples – and boost the environmental Protection.

In recent days, both candidates have tried to attract more focused voters.

Kast proclaimed that he was not an extremist and that he does not “feel far-right” after revelations that his German-born father had been a member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party and carried a card.

Meanwhile, Boric, who has the backing of a coalition of left-wing parties that includes the Communist Party of Chile, added more centrist advisers to his team and promised that any changes would be gradual and fiscally responsible.

“On both sides, people vote out of fear,” said Robert Funk, a political scientist at the University of Chile.

Funk explained that some voters are concerned that “if Kast wins, there will be an authoritarian regression”, while the other side believes that “Boric is too young, inexperienced and aligned with the communists.”

Whoever wins is likely to have a short term in office and will be cornered by a divided Congress.

Furthermore, the political rules could change soon because a newly elected convention is rewriting the country’s constitution from the Pinochet era.

The convention, the nation’s most powerful elected institution, could in theory call for new presidential elections when its work concludes next year and if the new charter is ratified in a plebiscite.

Leader of a military junta and self-proclaimed president, Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990. He came to power in a US-backed coup, followed by a brutal crackdown that killed some 3,000 people, while more than 1,000 are missing. day.

Heavily influenced by the free-market-oriented libertarians who studied with Milton Friedman, Pinochet and his government implemented a series of reforms around economic liberalization, removing tariff protections for local industry, banning unions, and privatizing hundreds of state-owned companies.

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