By: Satyaki Chakraborty
Jose Antonio Kast, candidate of the far right received nearly 27.94 per cent of the votes as against the Left nominee Gabriel Boric’s 25.75 per cent in the first round of Presidential elections in Chile held on November 21. Since no candidate got majority of the votes, as per the constitution, runoff will be held on December 19.The candidate with the highest number of votes will then be elected.
The first round voting figure is a sort of setback to the combined Left of Chile since only a few weeks back, Boric was leading as against Kast. Earlier the Communist Party of Chile candidate the Mayor of Santiago was the front runner in the opinion polls, much ahead of the right candidate. But the scenario changed after the selection of Boric as the candidate of the combined Left through election in the primaries on the pattern of US presidential elections. Now the Left has to look for big support from the votes of the other contestants most of whom are conservatives.
The election was Chile’s most divisive since its 1990 return to democracy, splitting voters between those seeking a shake-up of the Andean country’s free-market model and those demanding a harder line against crime and immigration. The Left candidate Boric called for a drastic change in the economic policy and he promised to bring about lot of pro-people measures for the benefit of the workers and the lower income earners.
On the other hand, Kast, a 55-year-old father of nine, has praised the neo-liberal “economic legacy” of former dictator Augusto Pinochet. He is the darling of the big corporates and his comments are on the lines of the former President of USA Donald Trump and the current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Kast has been criticized by many leading economists of the country for his far right economic and political views but he was able to gather the support of a good number of middle class Chilean citizens who are apprehensive of Left programme.
His frank talk, across-the-board conservatism and sometimes idiosyncratic policy ideas, such as digging a ditch to curb illegal immigration, have drawn frequent comparisons with former United States President Donald Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
Boric, a 35-year-old legislator who led student protests in 2011 demanding improvements to Chile’s education system has pledged to scrap the country’s private pension system – one of the hallmarks of the free-market reforms imposed in the 1980s by Pinochet’s dictatorship. He has promised to raise taxes on the super rich to expand the social services and take steps to protect the interests of the indigenous community.
Sunday’s vote came after two years of sometimes violent protests by Chileans demanding quality-of-life improvements. The demonstrations helped bring about an ongoing rewrite of the nation’s Pinochet-era constitution and propelled the candidacy of Boric, who for much of the race held a comfortable lead. But Kast capitalized the sense of fatigue among the middle class voters at political violence and continuous demonstrations focusing on security of the people’s lives. The pro Kast media continued with the propaganda that there would be no freedom for the common citizens if the left candidate won. This had some impact at the time of voting on Sunday.
Kast and Boric will be scrambling to pick up votes from the more moderate, centre-right contenders in a runoff, making these candidates the final deciders. Franco Parisi is in third place with 13 per cent of the votes while centre right Sebastian Sichel and centre left Provoste got around 12 per cent each. Kast has ego problems with the centre right candidate and this may lead to a situation where many of these voters may not choose him in the runoff. But still, he has more advantages in picking up new votes compared to Boric.
That way, the Left bloc in Chile is facing a tough battle in the run off on December 19. The trade unions are solidly mobilized behind Boric and they have planned to approach the supporters of the other candidates for support in order to prevent Kast from establishing a dictatorial regime again. It is a hard battle for the left and they know it. (IPA Service)