Ex-protester and far-right MP to meet in second round in Chile


Updated 2 hours and 3 minutes ago

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – A conservative lawmaker with a history of defending Chile’s military dictatorship and a former student protest leader were heading for a polarizing presidential run-off after the two failed to garner enough vote to win the elections in this South American country.

José Antonio Kast finished Sunday’s presidential election in the lead with 28% of the vote against 26% for Gabriel Boric after a deadly campaign that exposed deep social tensions in the most economically advanced country of the region.

In a speech to supporters on Sunday night, Kast doubled down on his far-right rhetoric, presenting the December 19 run-off as a choice between “communism and freedom.” He lambasted Boric as a puppet of the Chilean Communist Party – a member of the broad coalition backing his candidacy – who would forgive “terrorists”, be forgiving of crime and foster instability in a country that has recently been rocked by protests exposing deep social divisions.

“We don’t want to go the way of Venezuela and Cuba,” Kast said, speaking from a desk draped in a Chilean flag, to his supporters in the capital. “We want a developed country, which we aimed to become until we are brought to a screeching halt by violence and the pandemic.”

In contrast, Boric refrained from attacking Kast by name, accepting the results with humility and urging his supporters to listen and convince the skeptics who voted for other candidates.

“Our crusade is for the hope of overcoming fear,” Boric said, addressing through a mask to supporters in his hometown at the southern tip of the vast Patagonia region. “Our duty today is to convince others that we offer the best path to a more just country.”

A candidate who ran virtually from the United States without setting foot in Chile led the field of five other candidates far behind. In the Chilean electoral system, if no candidate obtains a majority of 50%, the first two face each other in a second round.

The vote followed a deadly campaign that exposed deep social tensions in the country. The entire lower house of the Chilean Congress, which has 155 seats, and about half of the Senate are also up for grabs.

Boric, 35, would become Chile’s youngest modern president. He was one of several student activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for better education. If elected, he says he will raise taxes on the “super rich” to expand social services and strengthen environmental protection.

He also pledged to eliminate the country’s private pension system, one of the hallmarks of free market reforms imposed in the 1980s by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Kast, 55, of the newly formed Republican Party, came out of the far-right fringe after winning less than 8% of the vote in 2017 as an independent. But he has steadily risen in the polls this time with a divisive speech emphasizing conservative family values ​​and attacks on migrants – many from Haiti and Venezuela – whom he accuses of crimes.

A devout Roman Catholic and father of nine, Kast has also targeted incumbent President Sebastian Pinera for allegedly betraying Pinochet’s economic legacy, which his brother helped implement as chairman of the dictator’s central bank.

Sebastian Sichel, a center-right candidate who garnered around 12% of the vote, was the first among the losing candidates to position himself in what is likely to be a second round, telling his supporters he would not vote in any case for “the candidate of the left”, a reference to Boric.

Meanwhile, Yasna Provoste, who finished with a similar amount, told her center-left supporters that she could never be neutral in the face of “a fascist spirit that Kast represents”.

Whoever wins will take control of a country in the throes of a major change but uncertain of its future after decades of centrist reforms that have largely left Pinochet’s economic model intact.

Pinera’s decision to increase metro fares in 2019 sparked months of massive protests that quickly turned into a nationwide clamor for more accessible public services and exposed the crumbling foundations of Chile’s ‘economic miracle’.

Severely weakened by the unrest, Pinera reluctantly accepted a plebiscite on rewriting the constitution of the Pinochet era. In May, the assembly responsible for drafting the new magna carta was elected and is expected to conclude its work in the course of next year.


Goodman reported from Miami

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