Chileans go to the polls this Sunday, November 21, to elect the successor of President Sebastián Piñera. After the citizen unrest of recent years and the social upheavals of 2019, which created the path for the change of the Constitution, these elections are making their way as the most crucial and least predictable in modern history. Although none of the seven candidates is a clear favorite, the two with the most options carry radically different political currents.
Chile votes in the most uncertain and crucial general elections in its recent history. The country goes to its first general elections, after the social outbreak of 2019 that promoted momentous changes.
The next government, which will replace Sebastián Piñera’s Executive, will face a fine line between maintaining the nation’s political and economic advances and the changes demanded by the population in recent years.
The citizens elect this November 21, both a new president, as well as new members of Congress and regional councils.
To occupy the Palacio de la Moneda, one of the seven candidates running this year must obtain more than 50% of the votes. Otherwise, there will be a second round on December 19, an option that is not ruled out because the polls agree that none of the applicants would exceed the margin necessary to declare themselves the winner in a first ballot. However, there are those who emphasize that the polls may not be right.
Citizens will cast their vote in a country with still open wounds and a thirst for solutions and change. What was considered one of the most stable and prosperous nations in Latin America was shaken by a wave of violent mobilizations two years ago, which left around 30 people dead, thousands of injured and serious complaints against the public force for violation of human rights.
“In the last 30 years, we had seven boring presidential elections, but Chile is no longer a predictable country and now we are mired in maximum uncertainty,” Raúl Elgueta, an expert in political science at the University of Santiago, told EFE.
Candidates with the most options, a sign of growing polarization
There are seven presidential candidates and although there is no clear favorite, two appear in the political sphere as the ones with the most options.
Reflecting the recent turmoil in Chile and the increasingly polarized politics of South America, the two main ones represent visions of great contrast.
They are 55-year-old ex-congressman and far-right, José Antonio Kast, and Gabriel Boric, 35, a former student leader who is running for a left-wing coalition.
Boric advocates expanding the role of the state towards a welfare model similar to that of Europe. He grew up in the vast region of Patagonia where his Croatian ancestors settled and rose to fame as the leader of protests a decade ago demanding a higher quality and less expensive education.
Like a group of other student activists, he was elected to Congress in 2014. After drawing attention for his casual dress and tattoos, he dismissed criticism that he was disregarding protocol, calling them “a tool of the elites to distinguish themselves from the elite. short people. “
At the head of the Broad Front, which he leads, a leftist coalition of the same name in Uruguay, he has proposed raising corporate taxes, some of the lowest in the region, to pay for the expansion of public services and protection of the environment.
It also points out that it aims to eliminate Chile’s privatized pension system, a hallmark of the years of former dictator Augusto Pinochet that successive democratic governments were reluctant to touch, despite mounting evidence that the employee-only funded plan leaves behind masses of working-class citizens without sufficient funds to retire.
On the other side of the coin, the right-wing Kast seeks to reduce the role of the state, as well as ban same-sex marriage and veto all forms of abortion.
The 55-year-old politician is the son of a German who served in Hitler’s Army during World War II and emigrated to Chile in the 1950s.
The presidential hopeful has been openly admiring the far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.
From his newly formed Republican Party he seeks to reduce corporate taxes and government bureaucracy.
Kast has launched a campaign convincingly raising the messages of law and order that have fueled divisions on social issues such as abortion and the rights of the LGBTI community, immigration and the role of religion in schools.
Political experts indicate that, if elected president, Kast could clash with the left-wing assembly that is advancing the process of drafting the country’s new Constitution.
But in the push to run for the Chilean presidency, the two candidates tried to downplay radicalism in hopes of attracting moderate voters who make up the bulk of the electorate.
The strongest demands for a new Chilean government
Some of the strongest demands have stemmed from anger over pension payments deemed insignificant and which critics attribute to Chile’s highly privatized pension system.
Others complain against the high costs of private education and the gaps between public and private health services.
On the other hand, many Chileans support the free market policies that propelled the copper-rich country into decades of growth and made it a bastion of relative economic stability in volatile Latin America. But a growing number want changes to address deep inequalities.
The most conservative voters, for their part, question issues such as increased immigration.
And there are those who demand “more security.” “I want my country to regain the peace that it had two years ago. All countries need changes, but they must be done in a peaceful way,” Mauricio Lagos, for whom the so-called social outbreak was “too violent,” told EFE.
At the same time, there are concerns about alleged abuses of the use of force due to the violent confrontations between the Police and Mapuche indigenous groups in the south of the country.
“With so many problems, the candidates have to offer solutions that are drastic and that is why we have two leading candidates that are quite extreme,” said Kenneth Bunker, director of political consultancy Tresquintos.
Whoever wins the Presidency will also have to handle a referendum to approve or reject the text of the new Magna Carta during his first year in office, considered one of the most momentous steps that will write a new page in Chilean history.
With Reuters, AP and EFE