José Antonio Kast, winner of the first round of Sunday’s presidential elections in Chile, is wasting no time. Early Monday, the 55-year-old leader of the far right had breakfast with a family from a neighborhood of social protection houses. He chose the site with care: there the speech of peace, order and security took hold that, finally, made him the most voted candidate, with 28%. “We have a majority project. We have not won anything yet, December 19 will be the big day, “he said, on the date of the second round of the elections, to the cameras that were waiting for him behind the black bars of the house. Kast’s activity contrasted with the low profile maintained by Gabriel Boric, his rival in that second round. This 35-year-old candidate, forged in the student struggles, obtained 25.5% of the votes at the head of a coalition of the left with the communist party.
Neither of the two has achieved large majorities, but the polarization of the result highlights the political earthquake that Chile is experiencing.
Kast succeeded in imposing on the electorate the fear of chaos. And make Boric a threat. “The election has been a counter-reaction to the October 2019 outbreak,” sums up María Ángeles Fernández, PhD in Political Science and Chilean analyst. “A violence unknown in democracy, difficult to categorize, was installed in society. What has failed was the effectiveness of the State to control it, ”he explains. The rejection of violence crossed all social layers and was a drag on Boric’s electoral possibilities, who raised as his own the street demands for more equality and free health and public education.
Gonzalo Müller, director of the Center for Public Policy at the Universidad del Desarrollo, calls the movement that started with the October 2019 protests “October 2019”. “October changed Chilean politics, but it is no more. And that explains the reaction of a world that takes refuge in Kast, the most bitter critic of the outbreak ”. “These conservative responses,” adds Mauricio Morales, an academic at the University of Talca, “are by a center-left that was not able to condemn the violence. Took on October 19 [madrugada en que explotaron las protestas] as something romantic, without much concern for order and the importance of restoring the rule of law ”.
Boric was one of the student leaders who in 2011 jumped off the streets to Congress. If he wins at the polls on December 19, he will be the youngest person La Moneda has ever reached. Kast, meanwhile, was part of the UDI, the right-wing party closest to Pinochet, until it broke up to form its own force outside the structures. Robert Funk, an academic at the University of Chile, says that “it is the first time in 30 years that the two candidates running for the ballot do not belong to the traditional Chilean parties. It is the collapse of the system and it is unprecedented that there is not a center match in the second round ”.
The electoral coup was for the groups that once made up the Concertación: the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party. But also for the traditional right, represented in these elections by Sebastián Sichel, a former Christian who ran as the candidate of the current president, Sebastián Piñera.
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Without traditional structuring forces, it didn’t cost Kast much to campaign on the ‘me or chaos’ logic. “Gabriel Boric and the communist party want to pardon the vandals who destroy. It must be said, it was Boric and the Communist Party who met with murderous terrorists, “he said on election night. Thus, he managed to concentrate his vote not only among the rich, but also among a middle and lower middle class that wants to restore the lost order and is fleeing the uncertainty of change. On the other side are those who lost faith in the “Chilean miracle”, based on a minimal state that barely participates in the financing of education or health. Free education was the trigger for the first student protests, back in 2006. The fuse was lit in 2011 and finally exploded in 2019, with extreme violence. Boric took those demands as a campaign platform. “We come to be the spokesmen for hope, dialogue and unity. Hope beats fear, “said Boric after finding out in the last round of the elections.
Search for votes
Now begins the stage in which the two candidates must convince the electorate of those who remained on the path of the first round. Boric has already built bridges with the Christian Democrats and it would be logical for him to add the votes of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a progressive who obtained 7.6% of the votes. The Socialist Party also expressed its support for him. And it can add to the 53% who stayed at home on Sunday – an abstention that is not exceptional in Chile – and may decide to participate in the final battle.
Kast opened his hand to the right-wing Sebastián Sichel, who for now has only said that he will never vote for Boric. “It is clear that for the leftist candidacy I am not going to vote, but I have programmatic differences with José Antonio Kast that I am willing to talk forward,” he said.
All eyes point, however, to Franco Parisi, an atypical candidate who campaigned without setting foot in Chile – he lives in the United States and cannot return due to legal problems – and obtained third place with 12.8%. “The Parisi voter is above all anti-establishment,” explains Gonzalo Muller. The natural thing, adds Mauricio Morales, “is that Kast captures the votes of Parisi without much effort, because it is a vote that values order and stability more than to lean towards a candidacy that offers more uncertainty than certainties, like Boric’s” . With those votes, Kast would have a good chunk of what he needs to win on December 19.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.