The first round of the Chilean elections led to a shock that has left an ultra-rightist, nostalgic for Augusto Pinochet, one step away from being the next tenant of La Moneda. José Antonio Kast, with a speech based on order, security and economic liberalism, obtained 28% of the votes, compared to 25.5% of the leftist Gabriel Boric, at the head of Approve Dignity, an alliance of groups of recent creation arising from the social uprisings of 2019, and other traditional ones, such as the Communist Party. The fracture is evident. And also surprising. Just six months ago, Chileans voted for a progressive-majority Constituent Convention, with independent candidates picking up the gauntlet of street lawsuits. The legislators promised to found a new Chile, with the text of a Constitution that would bury the one inherited from Pinochet. The left then felt that it had the presidency at hand.
Sunday’s election day was the first since the return to democracy in which the combined votes of all left or center-left options did not reach 50%. The right, from the extreme that Kast represents to the rest of the conservative groups, added 53%. It is not possible to ensure that those same votes will be transferred seamlessly to the far-right candidate in the second round, but the map shows the myopia of the progressive leadership, which did not see the signs of disaster.
Reality burst into the Chilean polls and trampled those who settled in a bubble of ideological comfort. The country now knows that the ordinary voter was refractory to the uncertainty of the radical changes represented by Boric. His promises of prosperity clashed head-on with Kast’s simple, flat and populist discourse: in the face of fear of the unpredictable, he counterposed security, order and peace. It did not matter if Kast rejects abortion, attacks immigrants or despises minorities, exactly the same combination that has been seen in other parts of the world, such as in Brazil with Jair Bolsonaro or in Spain with Vox.
The challenge facing the left is enormous. It will likely have the support of the progressive forces that did not accompany it as part of the I Approve Dignity coalition. There are the Socialist Party and part of the Christian Democracy. But those votes will not be enough. You also need to speak to the 54% of Chileans who did not go to vote on Sunday. Abstention is a structural problem in Chile since compulsory voting was abolished in 2012. That 54% is a heterogeneous group that has simply stopped believing in politics and politicians. It is the left that can seduce those disenchanted. You have just over 20 days to achieve it.