Chilean election offers a tough choice: a leftist or a Pinochet admirer | Chile
Chilean voters went to the polls on Sunday to choose between two presidential candidates offering starkly contrasting visions of the future, in the country’s most controversial elections since its return to democracy in 1990.
Left-wing candidate Gabriel Boric, a former tattooed student protest leader, pledged to empower women and indigenous peoples and increase taxes and spending to create a more just Chile.
His far-right opponent José Antonio Kast is a staunch supporter of former dictator Augusto Pinochet and has vowed to dig ditches along the country’s northern border to slow migrants down.
After years of centrist rule, the decisive choice resurfaced deep divisions in one of Latin America’s most stable democracies and rekindled bitter memories of the country’s recent past.
Conservative Chileans are convinced Boric is a crypto-communist who would push Chile into a Venezuelan-style economic downfall. Progressives fear that Kast will overturn fragile social gains and clash with the overwhelmingly progressive convention that rewrites the country’s constitution during the dictatorship era.
The two candidates claim that it is their rival who scares voters.
“This Sunday we are going to say ‘no’ to intolerant people,” said Kast – who frequently protests against the supposed influence of the “gay lobby” – during his last campaign rally on Thursday. “We will conquer the fear… We will win by a wide margin because that is what I have heard throughout Chile.”
Across town, Boric told his followers: “We are a generation learning from those who were here before us; we united to defeat the dictatorship, to democratize Chile, [and] to have a new constitution. And now we will come together again to defeat the heir to this government and Pinochetismo – and bring hope to Chile.
“I trust young people,” said Boric’s voter Cecilia Galaz, 67, as she walked to her polling station in a central part of the capital, Santiago.
“We are handing over a corrupt and self-centered world, so we absolutely have to change everything if we are to continue moving forward towards the kind of society we want to live in.”
Nearby, Fernanda Medina, 37, walked out of the polling station after also voting for Boric.
“I’m really excited,” she said happily, shaking her young daughter’s hand.
“But I’m afraid the disinformation is powerful in rural Chile, and some people are inclined to vote based on the emotions Kast is playing on rather than inquiring about the politics of the candidates.”
In rural areas of the country, as well as in the outskirts of Santiago, some voters complained about the lack of public transport to get to polling stations.
Videos circulating on social media showed long lines at bus stops – in bright sunshine and temperatures exceeding 30 ° C (86 ° F) – as well as depots full of parked buses.
Transport Minister Gloria Hutt gave a televised speech to “categorically deny” that the government was withholding buses. She also said that public transport worked “a little better” than a working day.
Some Chileans have started offering carpooling solutions to their neighbors in the hope of allowing everyone to vote.
Recognizing that the election will be won with the votes of those in the center, the two candidates moderated their programs in the weeks following the first round.
Kast is backed by the right-wing candidates he beat in the first round, while Boric has the support of the entire left, from the Communist Party to moderate former president Michelle Bachelet, who said this week that the Chileans face to a “fundamental” choice, urging them to support a leader who could lead the country “on the path of progress for all”.
Kast’s policies resonated with voters angered by two years of social protests and recent debates over abortion (which remains illegal in most cases) and migration.
But his connection to Chile’s past took a heavy toll on his campaign.
Kast, whose German-born father recently revealed he was a member of the Nazi Party, previously said Pinochet would have voted for him and campaigned against the transition to democracy in the late 1980s.
Boric, on the other hand, represents the progressive generation raised in democracy – many of whom harbor a visceral hatred of General Pinochet and his enduring legacy.
A reminder of that story came on Thursday when the death of the dictator’s widow, Lucia Hiriart, brought hundreds of people to a square in Santiago – some of them carrying photos of victims of the military regime.
“It unexpectedly turned into one of the most contested elections,” Mireya García told Reuters.
García’s brother was among thousands of people forcibly missing after the military overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973.
“What is at stake is that on the one hand the far right is clearly a danger for Chile and on the other hand there is a candidate who represents the youth,” she said.