Chile goes to presidential ballot box amid fears of mass protests


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Chile chooses Sunday between far-right and left-wing presidential candidates vying for support from an alienated electorate torn between hope and fear to decide who to vote for, if at all.

The country of 19 million people is on edge over fears of further mass protests in response to the end of the neck-and-neck race between ultra-conservative lawyer Jose Antonio Kast, 55, and former activist student Gabriel Boric, a millennial his 20 years junior.

For a country that has voted centrist since the democratic ousting of brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet 31 years ago, the choice between two political outsiders is difficult.

Many fear the socially and fiscally conservative policies of public order candidate Kast – an apologist for Pinochet, against same-sex marriage and abortion, and a proponent of lower taxes and social spending.

Others are put off by Boric’s political alliance with the Communist Party, which many in Chile equate to the failure of Venezuela, from where he hosts many migrants widely blamed for an increase in crime.

Social liberal Boric, who picked up the torch for Chile’s anti-inequality uprising in 2019, pledged to create a “welfare state” by increasing social spending in a country with one of the biggest gaps in the world. world between rich and poor.

‘Very nervous’

“I’m very nervous, I have a stomach ache,” Carol Bravo, a voter of Boric, a 34-year-old barista, told AFP on the eve of the poll, perplexed by Kast’s success but nevertheless full of hope that his candidate wins.

“I talked about it with my friends and we decided that if the other candidate (Kast) wins, we will take to the streets. We are afraid … but it is either that or accept our fate, a destiny of catastrophe. and fascism. “

Kast voter Fanny Sierra, a 30-year-old woman who works in human resources, said she would vote against “communism.”

“I think communism is very bad for a country,” she told AFP.

Kast edged out six other candidates in the first round of the presidential election in November to find himself in first place with 27.9% of the vote.

Boric came in second with 25.8 percent.

The two candidates relaxed their political proposals in a bid to woo Chileans who found themselves without an obvious candidate when they split the centrist vote in the first round, leaving only two poles apart.

“I’m going to vote, but I don’t know for whom,” said Javiera Otto, 24, an Amazon employee, who planned to do last-minute research to determine who is “the lesser evil.”

Will hope or fear tip the scales?

“Fear, to be honest. There is no real hope because I don’t like either” candidate.

“I don’t want us to become a second Venezuela … but neither do I want a far-right government.”

There will be “noise”

Chile has a high abstention rate, with around 50 percent of its 15 million eligible voters regularly giving large places to the ballot box.

The country is going through a profound transformation after having voted overwhelmingly last year in favor of the development of a new constitution to replace the one promulgated under Pinochet.

The drafting process, in the hands of a mostly left-wing body elected in May, is due to culminate in a constitution for approval next year, under the oversight of the new president.

The presidential campaign has been polarized, with lots of conflicting messages and offensive false news.

“It is a competition which aims to discredit the competitor,” Marcelo Mella, analyst at the University of Santiago, told AFP to the detriment of any real political discussion.

Closing his campaign on Thursday, Kast, a father of nine, vowed that “Chile is not and never will be a Marxist or Communist country”.

Boric, for his part, said his rival “will only bring instability, more hatred and violence”.

New York University analyst Patricio Nava told AFP there would likely be unrest, or at least unease, to come.

“There is going to be some noise, whether it’s in the purses (if Boric wins) or in the streets (in Kast’s case).”

Whoever wins, governing will not be easy with a Congress divided roughly 50-50, requiring negotiations on every policy proposal and compromise.



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