Upper house

Chileans go to the polls with two radically different views on the ballot

SANTIAGO, Nov.21 (Reuters) – Chileans began voting on Sunday in what is widely considered the country’s most controversial presidential election since the country’s return to democracy in 1990, when a former member of the Far-right Congress is fighting with a leftist who has lent his support to massive street protests.

Right, José Antonio Kast, a 55-year-old Catholic and father of nine, has pledged to crack down on crime and hailed the neoliberal “economic legacy” of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

His outspoken speech, widespread conservatism, and sometimes idiosyncratic political ideas, like building a moat to curb illegal immigration, have frequently been compared with former US President Donald Trump and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro.

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On the left, lawmaker Gabriel Boric, 35, who led student protests in 2011 demanding improvements to the Chilean education system, pledged to abandon the country’s laissez-faire business model, while strengthening environmental protections and indigenous rights. Overall, it represents a significant break between conservative and centrist politics that have dominated Chilean politics for decades.

“I vote for Boric because he’s young, because it’s good to make room for new generations,” said Sandra Astorga, 55, a housewife in central Santiago.

The election comes after two years of spectacular, sometimes violent street protests by Chileans demanding improvements in the quality of life. The protests contributed to an ongoing rewrite of the country’s constitution during Pinochet’s day and propelled the candidacy of Boric, who for much of the race held a comfortable lead.

“My perception is that the main demands (of the voters) are the same as those of the protests,” said Gaspar Dominguez, a left-wing delegate from the corps rewriting Chile’s magna carta. “Rights that have to do with social rights, health, education and housing.”

But growing Chilean fatigue is fed up with political violence, combined with a widespread perception that crime is on the rise, Kast said.

In most polls, Kast won the most votes on Sunday by a few percentage points, while a likely runoff in December would be extremely competitive.

“He will defeat drug trafficking, which is doing so much harm to our country,” Gloria Reyes Flores, a 66-year-old widow from the upscale district of Santiago de Las Condes, said of the right-wing candidate. “He will also control immigration because there are a lot of immigrants who come to harm Chile.”

A wild card will be the performance of the more moderate candidates in the race. Right center Sebastian Sichel and left center Yasna Provoste both vote between 10% and 15%, at least 10 percentage points behind Kast and Boric. But pollsters say a surprise is still possible given that millions of voters remain undecided.

Barring any surprises, Kast and Boric will scramble to win over Sichel and Provoste’s voters in the potential second round, slated for December 19, making the more moderate contenders potential kingmakers.

If either of the top two candidates manages to secure 2 million votes, said Kenneth Bunker, director of political consultancy Tresquintos, it could be a good indicator that they have broadened their base enough to win in a possible event. second round.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. (1100 GMT) and are expected to close at 6:00 p.m. The results are expected shortly thereafter.

Chile’s 155 lower house seats, 27 of the country’s 50 upper house seats and all positions in the country’s 16 regional councils are also up for grabs.

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Reporting by Gram Slattery and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda; Editing by Sandra Maler, Kirsten Donovan

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