Presidential Elections

In the final debate it’s everyone against Kast

Six presidential candidates (with the mystical Parisi still abroad and thus absent) faced each other on Monday, Nov. 15, in the final debate before the presidential elections. José Antonio Kast, frontrunner in several surveys, was targeted by all the other candidates. The night might possibly have a decisive impact on next Sunday’s outcome.

If one presidential candidate ran a solid campaign it was José Antonio Kast. He presented himself as the candidate of the people, bringing peace and stability to a shaken country. Not extreme, just common sense. Nearly 250,000 followers on TikTok (Gabriel Boric has some 20,000). A growing movement, both for young voters and old conservatives. Calm in debates, leading in surveys: Kast was on his way to La Moneda, it seemed. Until last week.

During a meeting with foreign press on Friday, Nov. 12, Kast explained why the Pinochet dictatorship was “better” than the ones in Nicaragua and Venezuela. Although Kast claimed misinterpretation, the raw footage was there and national media picked it up. What everyone with some decent memory already knew, but what most Chileans seemed to have forgotten this election, became clear: Kast was a neopinochetista, not afraid to defend the dictatorship. All other presidential candidates, preparing themselves for the Monday night debate, knew this would be his weak spot. And during that debate, they attacked like hungry wolves.

Also read:

When fantasy submerges reality

The dictatorship wasn’t the only open wound candidates kept poking at: on themes like abortion, gay marriage, decarbonization, and women’s rights, Kast had to show his true (hardline) colors as well. For Sebastián Sichel, who has run a difficult campaign so far, it became the perfect night to present himself as a solid, confident alternative, not extreme or too outspoken. He sought unity, instead of fear.

Unity was also emphasized by Boric, who seemed to think about the second round and the alliances he will need to forge with center-left Yasna Provoste and progressive candidate Marco Enriquez-Ominami – also referred to as MEO. That is, if Provoste doesn’t make it to the second round.

Provoste could have done more with Kast’s fallout, and her strongest moment was her speech about being the only woman among male know-it-alls. Eduardo Artés was, as always, present as the grandfather at the dinner table who throws in some wisdom from an Old World from time to time, while MEO led the pack of wolves eager to devour Kast, who seemed completely fatigued by what has been without a doubt the worst week in his campaign.

More about Kast:

Kast’s program is all about progressive authoritarianism

With this debate, a tense presidential race is coming to an end. In five days, Chileans will cast their votes in the first round of the presidential elections. A winner in this first round is not unthinkable, however quite unlikely.

At least four candidates have strong cards to make it to the second round, but all have their internal struggles. Boric is still trying to find out how to work with his Communist allies, whose recent support of the Nicaragua dictatorship put him in hot water. Sichel did far better as independent candidate than as candidate of the Chile Vamos coalition, and tried to distance himself from La Moneda. Last week showed that Provoste’s Christian Democrat Party is a liability when it comes to controversial topics – they voted against the fourth pension withdrawal and approved the extension of the State of Emergency in the south. And Kast is back in the far right corner, after having run quite the moderate campaign – back defending the extremes that made him rise in the first place but that also make him unattractive for the general public.

A debate like the one tonight can shuffle the cards of all contenders: it remains an unpredictable race until the very end.

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