WorldFear of uprisings gave wings to the ultra-right in Chile's elections

Fear of uprisings gave wings to the ultra-right in Chile’s elections

José Antonio Kast, who goes to the second round of presidential elections in Chile in the lead, doesn’t waste time. This Monday, the 55-year-old ultra-right politician had breakfast with a family living in a subsidized housing neighborhood. The location was carefully chosen: there was great acceptance of the speech of peace, order and security that ended up making him the candidate with the most votes last Sunday, with 28%. “We have a majority project. We haven’t won anything yet – December 19th will be the big day”, he said, referring to the date of the second round, to the cameramen waiting for him behind the black bars of the residence. Kast’s activity contrasted with the discretion maintained by his left-wing opponent Gabriel Boric. This 35-year-old former student leader received 25.5% of the vote, leading the so-called Frente Amplio in alliance with the Communist Party.

Neither of the two formed large majorities, but the polarization of the result highlights the political earthquake that Chile is experiencing.

Kast managed to spread fear of chaos among voters. And turned Boric into a threat. “The election was a counter-reaction to the October 2019 explosion”, summarizes Chilean political scientist and analyst María Ángeles Fernández, PhD in Political Science and Chilean analyst. “A violence unknown in democracy, difficult to categorize, was installed in society. What failed was the effectiveness of the State to control it”, he says. The rejection of violence crossed all social strata and was an obstacle to the electoral chances of Boric, who assumed as his own some banners on the streets, such as reducing inequality and free public health and education.

Gonzalo Müller, director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Development, calls the movement that began with the October 2019 protests “Octoberism”. “Octoberism has changed Chilean politics, but it is no longer growing. And that explains the reaction of a world that takes refuge in Kast, the most ardent critic of the outbreak”. “These conservative responses,” adds Mauricio Morales, an academic at the University of Talca, “are because of a centre-left that has not been able to condemn the violence. Took the 19th of October [madrugada em que os protestos explodiram] as something romantic, without worrying too much about the order and importance of restoring the rule of law”.

Boric was one of the student leaders who in 2011 jumped off the streets for Congress. If he wins at the polls on December 19, he will be the youngest president in Chilean history. Kast, in turn, joined the UDI, the right-wing party closest to Pinochet, until he broke with it to form his own formation, 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 second round do not belong to traditional Chilean parties. It is the collapse of the system, and it is unprecedented that there is no center party in the second round”.

The toughest electoral coup fell to the Christian Democracy and the Socialist Party, the two main associations of the former Concertación. But it also left the traditional right, represented in these elections by Sebastián Sichel, a former Christian Democrat who presented himself as the candidate of the current president, Sebastián Piñera.

Without traditional structuring forces, it didn’t cost much for Kast to campaign with the logic of “me or chaos”. “Gabriel Boric and the Communist Party want to pardon the vandals they destroy. It must be said: it is Boric and the Communist Party who are meeting with murderous terrorists,” he said on election night. With this type of speech, he managed to ensure that his vote was not limited to the richest, reaching a middle and lower-middle class that wanted to restore lost order and escape the uncertainty brought about by change.

On the other side are those who have lost faith in the “Chilean miracle”, supported by a minimal state that has little participation in the financing of education and health. Free education was the trigger for the first student protests, back in 2006. The fuse remained lit in 2011 and ended up exploding in 2019, with extreme violence. Boric took these claims as a campaign platform. “We must be the spokespersons of hope, dialogue and unity. Hope overcomes fear,” said Boric after the results were released.

Search for votes

Now begins the stage in which the two candidates must convince the electorate of those who got by the way in the first round. Boric has already extended bridges to Christian Democrats and it would be logical to add the votes of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a progressive who got 7.6%. The Socialist Party also immediately expressed its support. And he could also add up to the 53% who stayed home on Sunday – an abstention that is not exceptional in Chile – and perhaps decide to participate in the final battle.

Kast opened his arms to right-wing Sebastián Sichel, who for now has only said that he will never vote for Boric. “It is evident that in the leftist candidacy I will not vote, but I have programmatic differences with José Antonio Kast, which I am willing to discuss further on”, he said.

All eyes point, however, to Franco Parisi, an atypical candidate, who took third place, with 12.8% of the vote, after campaigning without setting foot in Chile – lives in the United States and cannot return due to legal problems. “Parisi’s voter is above all anti-system,” explains Gonzalo Muller. What is natural, adds Mauricio Morales, “is that Kast captures Parisi’s votes without much effort, because it is a vote that values ​​order and stability more, rather than leaning towards a candidacy that offers more uncertainty than certainties, such as that of Boric”. With those votes, Kast would have most of what he needs to win on December 19th.

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