Gabriel Boric (left) and José Antonio Kast (right). Getty Images
A choice between extremes to be defined in the center.
The rightist Jose Antonio Kast and the leftist Gabriel Boric The presidency of Chile is at stake this Sunday in a second round to which they arrive practically tied amid great uncertainty.
Kast won the first with just over two percentage points over Boric, the smallest difference since 1999 Ricardo Lagos exceeded by 0.4% Joaquin Lavin, which he later defeated in the ballot by a narrow margin.
More than 20 years later, Boric seeks a milestone: to be the first to overcome the disadvantage of the first round and win the presidency in the second.
If he expires, in addition, in March 2022 he would become the youngest president in the country’s history at 36 years of age.
If, on the other hand, the radical right-wing candidate, Kast, consolidates his advantage, it will produce the paradox of a country that, after the social outbreak of 2019, voted widely to draft a new Constitution and entrusted the task to a majority of the left and independents, and the presidency of a politician who rejected the formation of the Constituent Assembly and has shown sympathy with the military regime of Augusto Pinochet, creator of the current Magna Carta.
Whoever wins, a change will be consolidated in Chile, since it is the first time since the return to democracy in 1990 that the presidency is not disputed by the traditional center-left and center-right parties.
Boric supposes a turn more to the left than the one he represented Michelle bachelet (President from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018) and seeks to respond to the social demands that were reflected in the outbreak of 2019, such as reducing inequality, a more progressive fiscal system and a greater presence of the State in health, pensions or education .
Kast, for his part, also takes more to the extreme to the right, represented in recent years by the current president, Sebastian Piñera, who ends his second term with more than 70% disapproval of his management.
Who are they?
With nine children and close to the Schoenstatt Catholic movement, closet He already applied to La Moneda in 2017, where he obtained fourth place with 8% of the votes.
Although it follows many of the postulates of leaders such as Donald Trump The Jair Bolsonaro (whom he visited in Brazil), Kast is less combative than they are in public.
In campaign debates, he has been calm, with a leisurely style that fits with his message of order and stability.
Some of the axes of his program are security, economy and migration, issues in which he has managed to reflect the concern of a part of the electorate.
It aims to give the market more freedom of action and reduce as much as possible the participation of the state in the economy at a time when the social outbreak of 2019 showed that there is a demand that the State be more involved in social policies.
BoricFor his part, he entered the political arena as part of a group of student leaders that a decade ago led the protests that shook the country in demand for free, free and quality education.
He began his parliamentary adventure in 2014 by becoming a deputy for the southernmost region of the country, Magallanes.
He was reelected with a high vote in 2017 and ended up standing as one of the leading figures during the social outbreak of 2019, when seeking an agreement for an institutional solution to the crisis that later gave rise to the Constituent Convention and that today is working on a proposal for a new Constitution for the country.
The attraction to the center
But what in principle was a battle between extremes has now become more nuanced.
The radical proposals with which both reached the first round have been filed (some have even disappeared from the programs) as they have needed to get closer to the center, looking for the votes they need to win the ballot.
Kast and Boric are aware that they must generate alliances and win votes among more than 46% of the electorate that did not trust them in the first round and that now, if they decide to return to the polls, they will have to opt for options that were not their initial preference .
For this reason, they also seek to mobilize millions of people who did not go to the polls in the first round, when abstention reached 53%.
Low participation has become chronic in Chile since voluntary suffrage was implemented in 2012 and since then only the plebiscite for the new Constitution last year exceeded 50% of participation.
With a highly fragmented vote, Kast won with almost 28% of support in November, while Boric did not reach 26%.
The 53.74% that they added between the two candidates is the lowest percentage of accumulated votes for those who passed the ballot in the entire history of this mechanism in Chile.
The strength of the “anti” vote
In this sense, for many the vote against may now weigh more than in favor, which perhaps creates fewer incentives to go to vote and makes turnout to be low again.
“This second round is characterized by anti discourse rather than strengths. The majority would not be voting for entrenched party identity, but for an anti-extreme right and anti-left vote ”as happened this year in the election in Peru between Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, he tells BBC Mundo Rodrigo espinoza, political scientist at the Diego Portales University.
From the left, the fear is encouraged that Kast will recover discriminatory policies with women and minorities and that the State will stay away from social problems.
Meanwhile, the right-wing candidate feeds the fear of insecurity, instability, and the influence of the Communist Party in Boric’s coalition.
Espinoza points out that a first reason for the turn to the center is that both seek to win the almost one million votes that he obtained in the first round Franco Parisi, a outsider that he does not live in Chile and that with his third place he achieved success with an “anti-party, anti-right and anti-left” discourse.
A second reason, says the analyst, is Boric’s desire to attract the votes of the Concertación, the center-left coalition that governed Chile since the return of democracy and until Piñera’s first triumph in 2010, and that of Kast to do the same with the center-right.
And there is a third reason, he points out: neither Kast nor Boric will have left or right majorities in their favor in Congress, so for the sake of governance, they will have to reach pacts from the Palacio de la Moneda.
“They are going to have to leave the ideological frontier,” says Espinoza.
And they have already done it in the ballot campaign.
Boric has discarded in his new program the concept of “social struggle” and has reduced the expectations of the tax reform that he proposes, now closer to that of Yasna Provoste, the candidate of the center-left in the first round.
Kast’s case is even clearer.
The latest version of his government plan, much more moderate, no longer includes measures such as breaking diplomatic relations with Cuba and Venezuela, leaving the UN Human Rights Council, establishing an “International Anti-Radical Left Coordination” or eliminating the Ministry of Women.
Nor do there appear any allusions to eradicating the so-called gender ideology from the school curriculum or reversing the abortion law in the three causes. He has also ruled out his controversial idea of giving an allowance only to married women.
This shift to the center, however, can blur the political change, which seems to have been consummated by the absence from the ballot of the parties that ruled for 30 years.
“The interesting thing about replacement is that everything can change to stay the same. In their journeys to the center it would seem that Boric and Kast compete as the Concertación (center-left) and the Alianza (center-right) ”, he tells BBC Mundo Kenneth Bunker, political consultant.
“Any of the governments would be in a similar situation with methods that are not different” from those of the traditional parties in the past.
Which Chile will rule
The winner of Sunday’s ballot will share power with Congress and the Constituent Convention, and that can generate tensions.
“The constituent process plays part of its destiny,” says analyst Espinoza.
“Boric has said that he will protect the process, honor his name and accompany him. With Kast, he is expected to use the presidency to campaign for rejection, “he adds.
It is expected that in mid-2022 a plebiscite will be held in which the population will approve or reject the text now being drawn up by the 155 members of the Convention.
The biggest governance problem for both is that neither the left nor the right has control of the chambers of Congress, so any legislation must have support from both sides.
Hence, both Kast and Boric have now moderated their proposals.
The reform of the pension system with the controversial AFPs (Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones) is key in the future of the country and is on the agenda of both candidates.
“But Chileans are not clear about what one and the other propose, because both have been changing their proposals,” says Bunker, who anticipates that due to the political situation it is possible that a mixed system with a solidarity pillar will finally be imposed, one individual and other contributory of the companies.
“The system may change to end up more or less the same. These are the changes that a minority president and a divided Congress allow ”, he emphasizes.
Too the scope of the social reforms required is at stake in the crisis of the social explosion and in the pandemic and that were reflected in the overwhelming support for a new Constitution.
And that is where the key to victory may lie this Sunday. Bunker defines choice by the tension between the demand for change and the demand for order.
“And it is not a question of right and left. There is a mix of everything in the center. Chileans want changes, but not at any cost. They want changes with order. More social rights, but gradual, without compromising the economic, social and cultural stability of the country ”, says Bunker.
And that balance is perhaps the key that the presidency gives to Kast or Boric.