On Sept. 22, five of the seven presidential candidates participated in the first presidential debate ahead of the elections in November. For some, it was the last gasp to try to make something of their candidacy; for others, it was another chance to present themselves as the frontrunners they are already seem to be. And for one, it seemed a perfect stage to spur fake news and launch personal attacks.
At the presidental debate on Sept. 22, Gabriel Boric, the presidential candidate for the leftwing Apruebo Dignidad-bloc, had one main objective: present himself as the favorite he is according to several national surveys. Sebastián Sichel, who claims to be center right but receives support from the most conservative political parties, had a different goal: to use the debate as his first real chance to take a shot at his biggest competitors. Yasna Provoste, considered the third-place candidate, coming from the traditional center left parties that used to form the Concertación, needed a strong performance as her campaign has not been able to lift off.
And for José Antonio Kast and Eduardo Artés, the one extreme right, the other far left, the 2021 campaign is their second after 2017. They look for voters in the far corners of the political spectrum. Marco Enríquez-Ominami also ran in 2017, but wasn’t invited on Wednesday night, as he still fights his presidential candidacy in court after being excluded for his role in a fraud case. The seventh candidate, Franco Parisi, lives in the United States.
How did the five candidates do? An analysis.
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How comfortable was Boric on Wednesday? Being the top candidate according to Chilean surveys, meant that he could talk about his plans once in La Moneda palace, instead of attacking other candidates. Social reforms, investing in mental health programs, and a strong stance on human rights: repeating his program while quite easily defending himself against the often lazy attacks from his opponents, Boric had an easy night. President Sebastián Piñera, if he was watching the debate, will have felt less comfortable. “Those who are responsible for serious human rights violations do not only have to ask forgiveness, they have to answer to the international courts. Mr. Piñera, you have been warned, you will be prosecuted for the serious human rights violations committed under your mandate,” Boric said.
How can you be a centrist candidate when you are supported by the most conservative parties in Chile? Sichel still seems to struggle with his political position, especially when it comes to delicate topics such as abortion. Sichel, after being questioned several times, said he was against abortion. How different Sichel will be from the Piñera administration is yet to be seen in his program. When asked about the Chilean police, always defended by the Piñera government, Sichel said: “The Carabineros is a great institution that does not violate human rights.” He had several tense moments with the other centrist candidate, Provoste (see below).
There was a lot at stake for Provoste on Wednesday night. So far, she has not managed to capture the electorate with outstanding or different ideas, and besides stressing again and again that she is the only woman in the race, Chileans have a hard time understanding why they should vote for her. During the debate, she seemed more occupied with attacking her opponents than presenting her program. She attacked Sichel on his past as a lobbyist, but made herself less credible citing Wikipedia as source – although the mentioned fact was not untrue. She referred to Sichel as Piñera – which she claims was a slip of the tongue – but apart from some jabs and hits she couldn´t land any punches, muche less present herself as a credible alternative to Boric or Sichel.
Jose Antonio Kast
Kast, provocative as he is, is a great debater and showed his abilities on Wednesday night. He doesn’t need to pretend to be someone else: everyone knows Kast and the ideas he stands for. If someone still has doubts, during the debate he referred to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as an ally and one he shares ideas with. “I want to shrink the State, I want to fight corruption, I want there to be a Chinese wall between business and the State,” he said. However, in line with Bolsonaro, Kast didn’t back down from spreading fake news, when he said that the mortality rate among women in countries with legal abortion is higher.
Left of the Communist Party, there is Eduardo Artés, from the Patriotic Union. Artés knows he will probably not make it into La Moneda and did what he could to make sure the candidates he dislikes the most won´t either. He evolved into a patron for Boric, attacking Sichel on his political ideology. “You are rightwing, say it with pride!” and attacking Provoste for her role in the center-left governments that, according to several social movements behind the 2019 uprising, played a big role in increasing inequality in the country. Nothing to lose, everything to win.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.