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Elections in Chile: Jose Antonio Kast and Gabriel Boric represent an increasingly deep political polarization

“I want Chile to get back to order, the migrant crisis is out of control, we need more economic stability and to stop the violence that we are still experiencing two years after the social uprising. The only candidate who says clearly that he is going to recover, it is he, he adds.

This election comes two years after massive protests and riots that rocked the country in October 2019, with protesters calling for better pensions, better education and the end of an economic system they say favors the elite. The unrest led outgoing President Sebastián Piñera to agree to a plebiscite on the need to change the constitution inherited from the dictatorship – a year later, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to draft a new constitution.

But Chile has yet to regain the stability it was once known for. Brutal clashes between protesters and security forces continue every week in Santiago. Violence has also hit parts of the south of the country, where the government says drug traffickers have taken advantage of the conflict between the state and indigenous communities to gain control.

Like many countries, the Chilean economy also slowed during the pandemic, prompting Congress to approve successive withdrawals from private pension funds. The pension system is a legacy of the military regime and recognized by many businesses and economists as the foundation of the country’s strong capital markets; others, however, define the private pension system as a symbol of inequality. The turmoil had a negative impact on the financial system and increased inflation.

Given the political upheavals of 2019, Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old leftist congressman and former student leader, has been widely viewed as the presidential candidate who best represents the country’s social movement. He is running for a broad coalition which defends a welfare state model and which includes the Communist Party.

In recent weeks, however, the situation has changed, reflecting the growing political polarization in Chile.

Presidential candidate Gabriel Boric during a campaign closing ceremony in the municipality of Casablanca, in the region of Valparaiso, Chile, on November 18, 2021.

Many Chileans are poised to back Kast – a staunch advocate of private property, who wants to downsize the state, cut corporate taxes and focus social policies – allowing him to record an unexpected spike in economic growth. surveys.

Kast’s growing popularity is somewhat surprising after he opposed the creation of a new constitution and the election of a constituent assembly in May favored a left-wing majority. But experts say it’s part of a new trend in politics across the world: the expression of a frustrated middle class, suspicious of traditional parties and institutions, seeking more stability.

“I see this as part of the global penetration of a populist discourse similar to that of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States,” says Cristóbal Bellolio, doctor of political philosophy and assistant professor at Adolfo University Ibañez de Santiago.

“They have an anti-globalization message and promote the exaltation of patriotic values ​​which seem threatened by the will of the left to radically change everything. We are witnessing a Chilean interpretation of Make America Great Again,” he adds.

A “new right” for Chile

José Antonio Kast, a 55-year-old lawyer and former congressman, was a member of the Unión Democrática Independiente (UDI), Chile’s most conservative party, before deciding to run independently in the 2017 presidential election. Less than 8% of voters supported him, but he created his own party a year later and decided to try again.

A devout Catholic and father of nine, he comes from a family of entrepreneurs of German origin. One of his brothers held several ministerial posts under the infamous Pinochet regime. In the introduction to his political program, Kast presents himself as the potential leader of a “new right” centered on three pillars: freedom, the defense of public order and the strength of the family.

Jose Antonio Kast during a presidential debate at the national business meeting in Santiago, Chile on November 11.
Kast’s proposals include lowering taxes for businesses, building barriers in northern Chile to prevent migrants from entering illegally, abolishing abortion, and strengthening the police, among others. He also criticized the United Nations and wishes to limit Chile’s participation in them.

“It is true that he is part of a nationalist populist right which has swept through other countries, but on top of that, he has inherited the most extreme positions of his former party”, explains Robert Funk, professor. of Political Science at the Universidad de Chile and Associate Researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The lack of attractive candidates at the center of the political spectrum, the economic downturn, anti-communist sentiments and the weakening of the government due to social unrest, say experts, explain Kast’s rapid soaring.

Catalina Justiniano, a 43-year-old freelance graphic designer and mother of three, told CNN that she identifies with moderate right-wing politics. She was considering voting for Sebastián Sichel, the independent candidate who represents the center-right. But then she watched the televised debates.

“I changed my mind. I felt Sichel soften, not clearly answering questions and I lost my confidence in him. Kast was the candidate who had a clear stance on the issues that matter and who called things by name, ”she said.

Justiniano says the October 2019 social uprising and pandemic deeply affected his family. She lost much of her income and felt insecure due to the violence of the riots. Now she wants to live in peace.

“I want no one to give me money. I want to be able to earn my salary. I want to go to work without worrying about taking public transport,” she says.

Justiniano’s position sums up the general feeling of some center voters who were disappointed with the proposed candidates. Experts say Sichel failed to keep up the momentum he initially gained, and center-left candidate Yasna Provoste, a member of the mainstream Christian Democratic Party and the lone candidate, later joined the race. and failed to fully connect with its target electorate.

Move away from the center

According to Kenneth Bunker, political scientist and director of Tresquintos.cl, a digital platform for political analysis, Chileans don’t think so much in terms of left or right politics as they do in terms of the divide between chaos and order.

“Chaos does not only mean violence. It is also the disarray that some of the economic measures taken after the uprising in October 2019 have caused. Prices have increased and inflation is at 6%,” he said. he told CNN.

A migration crisis explodes in Latin America

Some Chileans also feel disappointed with the social movement and the constitutional process. Motivated by the idea of ​​a more equal country, Cristóbal Bellolio said, many felt they had to accept the turbulence as the price to pay for decisive political agreements that would bring peace and prosperity. Now they are wondering if it was worth it.

Some feel frustrated that their lives will not change after all this, others fear that the Constituent Assembly is leaning too far to the left. They see Kast as a possible counterweight.

Justiniano, for example, does not support Kast’s more conservative policies, but believes the Chilean Congress will not allow him to follow them.

The demand for reassurance is strong enough that part of the population is trading once-dear values ​​for the idea of ​​order and economic growth, experts say.

Álvarez is one of those people. He belongs to the LGTBQ + community and knows that Kast is against same-sex marriage. But he says he’s willing to sacrifice that kind of freedom in exchange for stronger leadership and more certainty about what comes up.

“I only agree 70% of what Kast is proposing, because I think public policies should be for everyone. I know that he is conservative and that we have to open up to the world, but I still think that he is the best option to bring the economy back to development, ”he said.

Prepare for uncertainty

The final stretch of the race will be decisive, but a power failure 15 days before election day makes it difficult to anticipate the outcome of such a volatile electoral process.

“I think Boric and Kast will be in the December second round, but the political cycle is moving too fast to define the support each of them will muster. They can still make mistakes that would affect their campaign,” Bunker said.

Whatever the outcome of the Chilean presidential election, experts say instability is likely to prevail.

“Whoever wins will have to negotiate with a fragmented Congress and it will not be easy to reach the majorities,” said Robert Funk.

“And neither platform is very elaborate. We don’t know how Boric will fund the policies he proposes, nor the reaction that Kast’s election might provoke on the streets. Unfortunately, this presidential election will not reduce the ‘uncertainty”.


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