Presidential Elections

Chile on the verge of the most decisive elections in decades

Chile goes to the ballots on Sunday to vote for a new president, senate and parliamentary representatives. With several crises in full swing, the stakes were never higher. Also, given that the outcome is highly uncertain, with four possible winners, this weekend is even more historic.

The closer the Sunday vote draws, the more desperate news outlets, political analysts and media personalities have been looking for frames that fit the reality. Although some completely miss the mark, everyone agrees that Chile faces the most decisive elections since the return to democracy in 1989.

National developments, global crises affecting the country, candidates that offer starkly different paths forward: a lot is at stake. Not only who’ll become president matters: the outcome of the congressional elections will play an even bigger role for the next president’s power.

Whoever goes to the second round in December will face an intense month of debating, campaigning and convincing disappointed voters. The road to the elections this weekend was already marked by personal attacks, shady campaigns and sometimes ridiculous accusations. Ahead of the second round, candidates will hopefully focus more on content, instead of naming and shaming.

Because that’s what’s needed: a presidential candidate who carefully internalizes the fears and hopes of voters and turns them into policy. The pandemic has hit people hard, from mental blows to economic stress – and the loss of loved ones many suffered. Escalating crime fuels public insecurity and distrust – not necessarily reflected in official numbers – and must be taken seriously. Climate change, hitting Chile on all levels. State violence. Increasing economic inequality that skews political power. The list goes on.

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A final look at Chile’s presidential hopefuls

Another point that makes these elections historic relates to the Constitutional Convention formed in the wake of demands articulated during the social uprising. The next president will sign the new Constitution and translate the demands of millions into political proposals. He or she will therefore be heavily influenced by the Constitutional Convention’s work, which will finish next year.

Framing the elections as a clash between extremes is inaccurate. But yes, the proposals of the four favorites starkly differ. Gabriel Boric is a young student leader, with progressive ideas backed by an unstable alliance with the Communist Party. José Antonio Kast, the face of Chile’s resurging far right, manages to reach so many Chileans fed up with violence and instability, tries to present himself as a moderate but is still an extremist.

Sebastián Sichel, a typical right-wing candidate focusing on economic growth above all, who claims to stay away from extremes and couldn’t escape the shadow of the Piñera administration where he also served as minister. And Yasna Provoste, the only woman in the race, politically the most experienced, who tries to continue the legacy of Michelle Bachelet but battles against the disgust many voters feel for her Christian Democrat party. Curiously, her campaign was run by former Bachelet administration officials rather than Provoste’s party.

Whoever goes to the second round, whoever becomes president, will have to deal with a pandemic, the effects of climate change, an uncertain economic future, the implementation of a new Constitution, but most of all: a bruised, polarized country. The election results on Sunday will decide the way Chile’s next president can govern the country. The only thing that’s left to do is vote. And hope for the best.


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