Chileans elect president two years after social uprising

Chile opened its polling stations for the election of a new president on Sunday, two years after an unprecedented social uprising against social inequality and in the process of drafting a new Constitution.

For these particularly indecisive elections, the outgoing conservative president Sebastián Piñera was the first public figure to go to vote in a school in Las Condes, an affluent district of Santiago.

« All opinions matter. Come and vote », « We are able to resolve our differences peacefully, let’s vote », urged the head of state in front of the cameras, who after two terms (2010-2014, reelected in 2017) does not can not represent himself.

Some 15 million voters – out of a population of 19 million – are called to the polls to decide between seven candidates for the presidency, to renew the entire Chamber of Deputies, half of the Senate, as well as the regional councils. Polling stations will close at 6:00 p.m. local time (9:00 p.m. GMT).

The two favorites in the latest polls, credited with around a quarter of the voting intentions, lie at the extremes of the political landscape, and outside the right-wing and center-left coalitions that have ruled the country since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

On the one hand, Gabriel Boric, 35, former student leader and candidate for the left-wing coalition « Apruebo dignidad » which includes the Communists in particular; on the other, José Antonio Kast, a 55-year-old lawyer and leader of the far-right Republican Party, which is surfing the unpopularity of the outgoing government.

Just behind the two favorites, stand out two former ministers, the Christian Democrat (center-left) Yasna Provoste, 51, and the right-wing liberal, Sebastian Sichel, 44.

« Those who have never been favorites now appear to be favorites, » said Raul Elgueta, political scientist at the University of Santiago, for AFP. « These are the last elections of the old cycle and they could have a different outcome than what we have had » so far, adds the academic.

With 50% undecided, a non-compulsory vote and an increase in Covid-19 cases, this is the most uncertain scenario since the return to democracy.

Another unknown, the participation of young people, strongly mobilized in the street since the uprising at the end of 2019 for more social justice, but who regularly express their little interest in the candidates’ proposals.

The early results of the overseas vote gave Gabriel Boric a resounding victory in Oceania, with José Antonio Kast in second in Australia and liberal Franco Parisi in second in New Zealand.

– Opposing programs –

This particularly open ballot comes just two years after an unprecedented social crisis in the South American country to demand a more just society.

Mr. Boric’s program aims to move towards a welfare state model and to guarantee social rights. He proposes to « build a State which guarantees rights, which guarantees dignity and equality, it is the only way to have social stability », he declared at the end of his campaign on Thursday.

For his part, Mr. Kast tries to maintain the neoliberal model inherited from the dictatorship of Pinochet and promises to impose « order, security and freedom », after two years of social revolt following the demonstrations which broke out in October 2019.

« Two models of society clash. The one we represent, of freedom and justice, and (…) a country we do not want and which would fall into chaos, hunger and violence, » said José Antonio Kast, at the end of his campaign, alongside his wife and eight of his nine children.

Another uncertainty, the Constitution which will emerge from the work started in June by the Constituent Assembly. The text, which could review the prerogatives of the president and parliament, will be submitted to Chileans by referendum during the coming term.

Whoever is « who will be elected president will face a difficult period, » predicts Claudia Heiss, professor of political science at the University of Chile, stressing the risks of « social conflict » when aid has helped to support the economy during the pandemic will end.

apg-pa / pb / yow / lda / fio / jb

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