A polarized Chile to choose new president from two opposing extremes

(Update 1: Adds details, updates vote results)

Santiago de Chile, Nov 21 (EFE).- Ultra-rightist Jose Antonio Kast and leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric will face off for the Chilean presidency in a runoff vote on Dec. 19 after emerging as the two top vote-getters in Sunday’s first election round.

Kast garnered 28.01 percent of the votes to Boric’s 25.64 percent with 92.75 percent counted on Sunday.

This is the first time since Chile’s democracy was restored in 1990 that the traditional center-left and center-right parties have not moved to the runoff stage.

The men have opposing campaign platforms and policies, and this will force Chileans next month to choose between what could be either the country’s furthest left government since that of Salvador Allende (1970-1973), or the furthest right since the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Boric, a 35-year-old lawmaker and a former student leader who defines himself as an ecologist, feminist and regionalist, wants to expand the role of the state to create a Chile possessing a model of citizens’ wellbeing similar to that of most European countries.

Meanwhile, Kast, a 55-year-old Catholic attorney, seeks to reduce the role of the state, trim imports, deal with irregular immigration with a firm hand and prohibit gay marriage and abortion under all circumstances.

The outgoing conservative president, Sebastián Piñera, called for “moderation” and “no polarization,” “responsibility” and “no populism” in the run-up to the second round.

Robert Funk, an academic from the Institute for Public Affairs of the University of Chile, told Efe: “There is a certain polarization in the candidacies, more than in the electorate, who considered that there were no good options in the center.”

The surprise third place went to libertarian economist Franco Parisi (12.95 percent), who resides in the United States and campaigned from abroad.

The results of this first round were rounded out by the 7.59 percent achieved by the progressive Marco Enríquez-Ominami and the 1.46 percent that went to radical leftist Eduardo Artés.

Sunday’s winners are united by being representatives of political forces founded a few years ago and by collecting the votes of those disenchanted with the current institutional framework, but their government programs, as well as their vision of the social unrest that broke out in 2019, are very different.

Kast advocates reducing public spending and taxes and promoting the free market enshrined in the Pinochet constitution.

The conservative monopolized the discontent of those who saw a violent movement in the social unrest and made a bid for the recovery of peace, to which he added anti-immigration discourse and security guarantees regarding the indigenous conflict in the south of the country, which he accuses of having a terrorism problem.

“The only candidacy that will regain peace, which is the alternative to confront criminals and drug trafficking and that will put an end to terrorism, is ours,” Kast said when celebrating the victory.

On the other hand, Boric responds in his policies to the desire for change expressed by Chileans in the protests and projects a transition to a new productive path, an increase in taxes and the strengthening of the role of the state to offer a model of solidarity pensions and universal healthcare.

In social matters, the liberal candidate promotes feminism, gay marriage and abortion, which Kast firmly opposes.

“Today we have received a mandate and a responsibility that is tremendous. We have been entrusted to lead a dispute for democracy, inclusion, justice, respect for the dignity of all,” Boric said in his post-election speech.

The triumph of the polarized candidates leaves a very broad political center that both Kast and Boric will try to win over before next month’s runoff.

The elections are considered one of the most momentous in the recent history of Chile due to the responsibility that the new president will assume amid the constituent process opened as a result of the social unrest, which could change the institutional framework and engender a new country model. EFE

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