Wednesday, December 8

Chile: two opposing country models face each other in the most uncertain elections

Chile is debating this Sunday between two totally opposite country models in the presidential and parliamentary elections. These are elections that for many are the most momentous since the return to democracy in 1991, as they were held in the middle of the constitutional process and with highly polarized Chilean society. They are also one of the most uncertain.

Although there is mistrust in the polls due to the errors of the last elections, none of the seven candidates that is presented exceeds 30% and the percentage of undecided can be decisive. The stage is wide open and on Sunday there could be surprises. The four main candidates are Gabriel Boric, as standard-bearer for the left-wing I Approve Dignity coalition that groups together the Frente Amplio conglomerate and the Communist Party; Yasna Provoste, who represents the traditional center-left parties; Sebastián Sichel, candidate of the right grouped in Chile Vamos Más; and Jose Antonio Kast, leader of the far-right Republican Party. All the polls indicate that, for the first time, the main dispute will take place between the extreme right and the left. These calculations leave out the traditional parties – right and center left – that have alternated in power during the last 30 years.

Challenge for traditional forces

“This election is a challenge for the traditional forces because both candidates [los favoritos] they challenge traditional politics, their parties and their leaderships, and also have a kind of anti-elitism that fits very well with the discourse of the social outbreak of 2019 “, says the professor at the Institute of Public Affairs of the University of Chile, Robert Funk.

Until 2017, Chilean politics was dominated by two large coalitions: the Alianza (right) and the Concertación (center-left), but the electoral reform of 2015 allowed the transition to the proportional system and changed the scenario. The Broad Front broke into Congress four years ago and installed a tripartite system. Now one of its leaders heads the possibilities to govern. “This election is decisive to consolidate the three coalitions in Congress,” explains Kenneth Bunker, director of the Tresquintos pollster.

The case of the extreme right is different. José Antonio Kast heads the Christian Social Front as leader of the Republican Party – the strongest of the bloc – which was constituted as a party only four months ago, when it appeared fourth in the polls. Their adherence has been increasing as the weeks have passed, in part due to the poor performance of the traditional right-wing candidate, Sebastián Sichel.

Yasna Provoste has not fared much better, who, from the New Social Pact bloc, has not managed to take off during the entire campaign. “There is a collapse of the center and moderate forces,” says Bunker. According to him, “the center-left does not exist today.” In his opinion, this has to do with the fact that in the social outbreak “they stood behind the Frente Amplio and sectors of the radical left to sing in their choir and follow their criticism, but without raising their own leadership.”

On the right, for its part, “the bad government of the current president Piñera” took its toll on him, from which, says Bunker, everyone wants to ignore: “Nobody wants to belong to that world.” The Chilean president was saved this Tuesday from a impeachment (constitutional indictment) against him for the Pandora Papers revelations. The journalistic investigation links him to alleged irregularities for the sale of a mining project in the British Virgin Islands in 2010. The Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into the case and for the first time a Chilean president is being investigated for his public function. This has been the second time that the Chamber of Deputies accused him. The first, which did not prosper, took place in 2019 due to the human rights violations that occurred during the social unrest.

A millennial against a Pinochet heir

Kast proposes an ultra-conservative program, with a special focus on order and security and setbacks in several areas. It proposes digging a ditch to stop irregular migration, repeal the Abortion Law – which decriminalizes it for three basic cases – or eliminate the Ministry of Women, among others. It is the second time he has tried to get to La Moneda. The first was in 2017 and was fourth, with 8% of votes. He belongs to the sector of the Chilean extreme right that has recovered the figure of the dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1991) and his regime, which he calls “military government.” “Kast arises from the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), the party that inherited the speech pinochetista, and left there because, later, he found it insufficiently pinochetista“, says Funk. The profile of his voter is the man between 51 and 80 years old, from the middle class and popular sectors, a supporter of the current government of the conservative Sebastián Piñera or who says he has no political position.

Boric, for his part, prioritizes reforms in health, pensions and education; an increase in taxes on the richest; reducing the working day to 40 hours and a reform of the police. After 48 years, the left could once again rule the country from the hand of a millennial, former leader of the university student movement. If so, Boric would become the youngest president of Chile. “Boric’s model is social democratic, combined with a romanticization of the Allende past. A revolutionary discourse, but at the same time emphasizing gradualism and moderation,” says Funk. Its electorate is higher in the richest sectors and among young people between 18 and 31 years old, many of them with higher education.

The contradiction

For the first time, Chile is experiencing elections in the middle of a constituent process. They are two factors that, in a way, are linked. Kast was one of the greatest exponents of the rejection of constitutional change, while Boric was one of its promoters. Both experts agree on the possibility that the Chile of the social outbreak and that promoted the first joint Constitutional Convention, with representation of the native peoples and a majority of independent and left-wing candidates, ends up being governed by the extreme right. It would be a great contradiction that the country would have to face.

“In the two models under debate there is an axis that has to do with order versus change,” says Bunker. Kast has tuned in to people who prioritize a return to order and economic stability after months of protests and uncertainty. “The demand for order exists and people are willing to vote for it despite considering it pinochetista“, says the expert. For his part, Funk adds:” Kast represents the questioning of the elites, the ‘let everyone go’ and has managed to capture the feeling of fatigue from the abuse that the middle classes made visible in the social outbreak. ”

Among the greatest challenges for the future president of Chile is the accompaniment of the constituent process in its final stretch. The exit plebiscite to ratify the new Magna Carta will be held in the middle of the second half of 2022, with the new Government already installed. The advance or the obstruction of the second stage will depend, to a large extent, on what happens this Sunday.

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