Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

A far-right former congressman is leading the presidential election in Chile and is likely to face a run-off with a former student activist.

With nearly 97 percent of the vote counted Sunday, Jose Antonio Kast had 27.94 percent versus 25.75 percent for Gabriel Boric, with a significant gap between them and the rest of the field.

Both were very short of the majority needed for an absolute victory, meaning Chile are on track for what is likely to be a polarized runoff next month.

The election is Chile’s most divisive since its return to democracy in 1990, dividing voters between those seeking an upheaval in the Andean country’s free market model and those demanding a tougher line against crime and immigration.

Kast, a 55-year-old father of nine, praised the neo-liberal “economic legacy” of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

His candid talks, conservatism across the board and sometimes peculiar policy ideas, such as digging a ditch to combat illegal immigration, have often drawn comparisons with former US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

This combination of photos shows Chilean presidential candidates Jose Antonio Kast on the left and Gabriel Boric on the right [Claudio Reyes and Martin Bernetti/ AFP]

Boric, a 35-year-old lawmaker who led student protests in 2011 demanding improvements to Chile’s education system, vowed to scrap the country’s private pension system – one of the hallmarks of free market reforms enforced by Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1980s is.

If elected head of a broad alliance that includes Chile’s Communist Party, he says he will raise taxes on the “super-rich” to expand social services and boost the protection of indigenous peoples and the environment .

‘Polarized effluent’

Sunday’s vote comes after two years of sometimes violent protests by Chileans demanding improvements to their quality of life. The protests helped bring about a continued rewriting of the country’s Pinochet era constitution and propelled Boric’s candidacy, which had a comfortable lead for much of the race.

Supporters of Jose Antonio Kast react after the partial results of the first round vote during the presidential election in Santiago, Chile, November 21, 2021 [Pablo Sanhueza/ Reuters]
Supporters of Chile’s presidential candidate Gabriel Boric meet after first round of general elections in Santiago, Chile, 21 November 2021 [Rodrigo Garrido/ Reuters]

But growing fatigue among Chileans who are fed up with political violence, combined with a widespread perception that crime is on the rise, has given Kast a boost.

Kast got the most votes by a few percentage points, as was apparently the case on Sunday night. The likely outcome on December 19 will be extremely competitive.

Al Jazeera’s Daniel Schweimler, who reported from Santiago, said supporters who had gathered at Kast’s campaign headquarters were “euphoric”.

“People here are delighted and very much looking forward to that second round,” he said. “They play songs that talk about security and freedom – the two main boards of Kast’s campaign.”

At Boric’s offices in Santiago, the mood was equally festive.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman said Boric’s supporters were “definitely not ready to concede defeat”.

“People here say we can not allow Kast to take over, we can not allow a dictatorship to return to Chile. In fact, they give him the nickname KKK Kast because of his anti-migrant policies, and they consider [his election] would be a step back 30 years for Chilean politics and society, ”she said.

“The difference [in support] among the top contenders are very very few. So anything can happen in a second round and we will in future see a very energetic and polarized campaign. ”

Newman added that the “big question” of the evening was who would support the candidates from the center-right and center-left parties.

Kingmakers

Kast and Boric will scramble to get votes from the more moderate, center-right rivals in a roundup, making these candidates potential kingmakers.

In third place was the economist Franco Parisi, who lives abroad and did not set foot in Chile during the campaign. He had more than 13 percent of the vote.

This may well bode well for Kast, who, although more right-wing on social and cultural issues, shares many of Parisi’s conservative economic beliefs.

Center-right candidate Sebastian Sichel and center-left Yasna Provoste were just behind, both by about 12 percent.

“I’m not going to vote for Gabriel Boric’s candidacy, and I have programmatic differences with Kast, but I will communicate any decision later,” Sichel said when the results came in, adding he congratulated Kast on advancing to a second round.

“I do not want the far left to win in Chile.”

Meanwhile, Provoste told her center-left supporters that she could never be neutral in the face of a “fascist spirit representing Kast”.

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