For Chileans, the choice in today’s elections is socialism or barbarism

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Chileans are voting today between two presidential candidates: one who could be the most radical leftist since Salvador Allende or another easily as reactionary as the far-right dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The result of this contest’s stark contrast between left-wing Gabriel Boric of the Social Convergence Party and José Antonio Kast of the Republican Party – a name inspired by the GOP of the United States – will have impacts beyond Chile. The viability of Chile’s recent major upheavals against neoliberalism, including the 2019 social uprising that sparked the election of a constituent assembly to replace the dictatorial-era constitution, is being tested in this race. Whichever side wins, regional elections are likely to come elsewhere in Latin America, such as presidential elections in Colombia and Brazil next year.

The two presidential candidates in the second round are both outside the Chilean mainstream and in relatively new political parties, but the similarities end there. Boric is a thirty-five-year-old former student leader who rose to prominence during the Chilean winter, a 2011-2013 youth uprising against neoliberal education reform that culminated in the last decade with him and other young leftists of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) a coalition which won the office of Congress alongside more historic left parties. Boric’s coalition, Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) has deep ties to popular movements new and old.

Kast, twenty years older than Boric, is the son of a former German officer linked to the Nazi Party. The far-right was the only major presidential candidate to oppose the constitutional process and continued to oppose abortion, gender and sexual rights as Chile liberalized laws on issues such as same-sex marriage.

These two candidates have opposing views of Chile: Boric’s program could, in the short term, move the country towards social democracy, while Kast’s could send Chile back to the repression of the Pinochet era. But reading the American media, one would think that both are equally dangerous. Like Ari Paul summarized in FAIR, the great American journalists have created a false equivalence between the two, where each leads the country on a different but equally destructive path.

One of the main reasons Chileans have these two options today is that the first round of the presidential election in November demonstrated the collapse of the historic center-left and center-right blocs. Since the return to democracy around 1990, Chile has been governed by two coalitions made up of Christian Democrats, Social Democratic parties and, rarely, the Communist Party or two major right-wing parties. Last month, these two coalitions finished not only behind Boric and Kast but also behind Franco Parisi – a newcomer excluded from the debates, in part because he lives in Alabama. (Some suspect he did not return to Chile to avoid revealing his possessions.) His vote tally mainly reflects a protest against the status quo, but also demonstrates voters’ lack of confidence in the former ruling coalitions after thirty years.

Of the seven candidates who ran in November, right-wing contenders held a slight majority of the vote in the first round. Despite the disappointing results, Boric has a good chance of winning today. He received the open support of center-left parties and other major progressive candidates. Kast’s far-right positions are now under closer scrutiny and have weakened his support. Boric can consolidate left-wing voices among those engaged in the constitutional process and those fearing a return to the repression of the Pinochet era, winning a majority that had previously eluded him.

Boric continues slightly better Kast in the polls also. While those polls may not be reliable, they accurately predicted Kast would take a slight lead in the first round. While the polls become somewhat unpredictable as fewer and fewer potential voters answer calls, neither side is too sure that they can rely on polls for a specific level of support. In this election, as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is polling day.

The axiom is more relevant given that Chile bans the publication of public polls about two weeks before the presidential vote. During my stay in Santiago as the official representative of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) among international observers, I met traditional and newer left parties, all of which support Boric. (DSA recently issued a declaration in support of Apruebo Dignidad.) Those who still receive internal polls have said the race is neck and neck.

Chilean law also prohibits electoral campaigning within 48 hours of the start of election day. On Thursday, the two campaigns held closing rallies to show their support across the country. The Frente Amplio estimated that Boric’s rally in Santiago had tens of thousands of people who came to hear not only him, but also famous Chilean musicians such as Ana Tijoux and Illapu, as well as elected leaders such as the young Communist mayor. de Santiago, Irací Hassler Jacob. The event had a rock concert atmosphere; Kast’s closing events, meanwhile, were much smaller.

The turnout was notable, as the first-round campaign’s closing rallies were much smaller in comparison, according to people familiar with the races, with some events last November reaching only several hundred activists. The hope is that this increase demonstrates, at the very least, an increase in the enthusiasm of young people to vote. In such a close race, neither side can afford to lose votes, and the youngsters could tip the election in Boric’s favor.

Coincidentally, also on Thursday, Pinochet’s infamous widow and money launderer, María Lucía Hiriart Rodríguez, died aged ninety-nine. Kast took the opportunity to attack those who celebrated his death as a security threat. In Plaza Dignidad, I saw with my own eyes the gathering of nearly a thousand people to applaud his passing. Shortly after, the police closed the streets. It’s the same playbook everywhere: a few protesters can spark a massive police backlash and the right wing takes the opportunity to play on some of the public’s safety concerns.

These dynamics are important in such a tight competition. If Kast can play on the public’s fears, real and fabricated, he can get away with it. Boric will need a base that goes beyond those who fear a return to Pinochet-era rule to win. This is all the more true Kast supporters are now adopting Donald Trump’s playbook, pledging to challenge election results in the final days if Kast doesn’t win.

Whoever wins today will not find it easy to rule. Congress, whose elections were set last month, is almost evenly divided. The constitutional process is continuing and will be subject to another plebiscite. While Boric is unlikely to face any street protests Kast might have, he will need to find a way to resolve the amnesty issue for political prisoners currently in prison and work with a national police force that he seeks to reform. and an army for which he is not known. its attachment to democracy. Kast’s illiberal democratic efforts will no doubt meet serious resistance, both electoral and through movements beyond the left.

No matter who wins, only the Chilean people will determine their future. Their choice is really between democracy and authoritarianism, socialism and barbarism.



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