What is at stake in Chile in the elections this Sunday? | Opinion

Six of the seven candidates for the presidency of Chile participated last November 15 in the last television debate, in Santiago de Chile
Six of the seven candidates for the presidency of Chile participated last November 15 in the last television debate, in Santiago de ChileESTEBAN FELIX (AFP)

Chile until October 2019 was the most prosperous country with the best expectations in the region. It had a recognized economic management and high institutional stability. However, since then – barely 18 months after having elected a right-wing president for the second time, something exceptional in its political history – the country has been engulfed in an atmosphere of violence and unrest. What could have happened so that what President Piñera called an “oasis in the region”. Would he repeat, or appear to repeat, the usual cycle of malaise and disorder that, unfortunately, has become the trademark of the region?

The answers that the presidential candidacies give to these questions allow us to foresee what is at stake in this Sunday’s election.

The Broad Front – the latter in some sense an imitation of Podemos, although its leader Gabriel Boric does not wear a ponytail or teach at the university since he has not graduated yet – has argued that the modernization of Chile is, in reality, a fantasy, a Mendacious story that hides a form of individualistic and abusive capitalism that, in exchange for expanding immediate consumption, allows the enrichment of a stingy and selfish elite, deteriorates cohesion and solidarity and, when the time of old age and illness arrives, abandons to the majorities. This point of view suggests abandoning the model that Chile has followed up to now and taking a turn that intensely increases the role of the State, increases the tax burden and reviews the trade agreements that Chile has signed. Around these ideas, and in alliance with the Communist Party, a group of political forces with a strong generational tint and high sensitivity towards identities of all kinds, sexual, ethnic, gender, are swirling.

So far the surveys -the ones that have to be taken with everything with a grain of salt– they predict that together with the candidate of the Broad Front, the conservative candidate will vote. The latter is José Antonio Kast, a politician formed in the shadow of the political cadres of the dictatorship that ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990. Kast represents in cultural matters what Vargas Llosa would call a “cave right”, allergic to sexual diversity and family, the gender agenda and abortion. His diagnosis of what has happened in Chile points rather to a crisis of authority. The old themes of the right resonate in Kast’s speech: national unity, respect for tradition, diminution of the role of the State. What explains the rise that in the last polls he experienced until he was at the gates of the ballot? As is often the case, it has been the violence and disorder of the protest (which the Broad Front justified and which today is timid in condemning) that has prompted the middle groups to move under its shadow in search of safety.

If the distinction between the people and the elite as the key to explaining Chile’s problems favors the Frente Amplio, the split between order and disorder is conducive to José Antonio Kast’s option.

There are two other competitive candidates – it has already been said that this polls must be taken with care, like someone who takes small doses of poison – which are those of Yasna Provoste on the center-left and Sebastian Sichel, on the center-right.

The case of Provoste – the only woman in the competition – is worthy of analysis. He made the candidacy promoting “common minimums” between the government and the opposition and in recent debates he has emphasized being part of the political forces that promoted modernization (the “most successful coalition in history”, he said at the time). The problem is that just the day before yesterday he almost coincided with the theses on the left and, instead of taking pride, he abjured the achievements of the last thirty years. that the last thirty years were a fraud? Most likely not. Socialism and the Christian Democrats have often declared themselves ashamed of what they did so that, at this point, the pride they declare is worthy of credit.

Sebastián Sichel is the independent candidate who won the right-wing primaries. Around him are grouped the most liberal sectors. It has a liberal agenda in the sphere of culture, and has stressed that for the next few years there are no shortcuts and that gradualism is the only way to meet social demands -especially in old age and illness. His mistake – which has meant a drop in the polls against Kast – was to accentuate his life story plagued by meritocracy, rather than an agenda of changes. However, in the last week his performance has improved and it is likely that if he does not pass the ballot at least he can influence Kast’s agenda by avoiding the caveman of the latter.

What is at stake in all this? Moments of crisis can be read as a fruit of modernizing success or as blatant proof of its failure. Sichel is in the first alternative, Boric and Provoste in the other. The consequences of this are obvious: correct the pathologies of Chilean modernization or, instead, modify the course.

And the rest of the candidates? Well, those who remain lack the possibility of going to the ballot. Marco Enriquez Ominami, a socialist, narcissistic and histrionic politician like few others, is running for the fourth time and threatens to turn the presidential candidacy into his profession. Franco Parisi is a candidate at the distance that he is applying from the United States, where he is unable to enter Chile because he owes huge alimony to the children he left here. And there is Eduardo Artés, a elementary school teacher whose hero is Stalin and whose model, I am not exaggerating, is North Korea.

These last candidates are, however, a ground wire: they show that, despite modernization, the magical realism so beneficial in Latin American literature continues to be the political vice of the region. And from which, despite all its progress, Chile cannot fully exonerate itself.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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