OPINION Presidential Elections

The final stretch of the presidential elections is marred by polarization

Never since the return to democracy has the outcome of a presidential election in Chile been that uncertain. While it’s fairly clear that the left will have a candidate in the runoff, all bets are off when it comes to his contenders. That means the round could be contested – and won – by representatives from the left to the far right.

In every election campaign since 1989, it has been more or less obvious who’d become president in March the following year. Not this time.

It’s barely a month until the elections and a clear favorite for the top job is difficult to discern. While it’s pretty certain that Gabriel Boric, the standard-bearer of the Broad Front left-wing coalition, in alliance with the Communist Party, will make it to the December runoff, it remains unclear who could become his rival.

Off The Rails

Until recently, center-right Sebastián Sichel was likely to at least make it to the second round. But the campaign of President Sebastián Piñera’s confidante has collapsed. Under pressure, Sichel conceded he took advantage of pension fund withdrawal legislation and pulled 10% from his mandatory, privately managed fund. Previously, he declared the system a bedrock of right-wing governance and warned governing-coalition parliamentarians who support a fourth withdrawal.

But revelations by CNN Chile seem to be the nail in the coffin. They revealed that Sichel’s 2009 campaign for parliamentarian benefited from illegal resources and false invoices. Since then, the flight of votes from his campaign to that of hard-right José Antonio Kast has only intensified.

Kast, of Republican Action party, has gained second place in the polls, even though up to a third of voters remain undecided. He benefited from disenchantment with Sichel in circles close to the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party, which cultivates dictatorship nostalgia but tries to fit into contemporary Chile.

Also read:

A disastrous week for Sichel: revelations and resignations

The Right Savior?

Sensing the public mood, Kast aims to implement a “genuine right-wing” government program in which migration and the crisis in La Araucanía region are focal points. He proposes to dig a 3m-deep ditch surrounded by bars to prevent illegal immigration via the desert, as well as deploying the armed forces to the so-called south macrozone, which Piñera also tried.

Especially those that think Piñera is weak on immigration and crime – central problems he vowed to solve when campaigning in 2017 – have turned to Kast. With the simple slogan “Dare,” Kast, a former UDI lawmaker, has electrified opponents of the constituent assembly and maintains other positions that are far from popular demands.

The Center … and Outlier

But Sichel’s voter flight could also benefit Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste, who performed well in the recent debates. If she makes it to the second round, her chances will exponentially increase, considering that many right-wingers would vote for her to prevent a Boric victory.

Franco Parisi, on the other hand, has turned into something worthy of a fictional TV show. The economist continues to campaign from the US, focused mainly on a loyal social media fan base. Member of the People’s Party, he has justified his absence by claiming political persecution, which contains quite a bit of paranoia.

He conveniently omits that he’s under investigation for sexual harassment and problems in the schools he owns and received scorn for non-payment of alimony. Paris is surely unaware of how sensitive our society is to this issue, otherwise he would perfectly understand that he’d have to abandon his bid before the damage to his reputation becomes irreversible.

Deepening polarization could even reactivate the social outbreak, especially since pandemic relief is set to expire within a month. Also, inflation is rising, and – the icing on the cake – Piñera is being constitutionally accused and could be suspended from office before the first election round on November 21. He has amassed multiple conflicts of interest, but this investigation focuses on revelations related to the Dominga mining project, exposed in the Pandora Papers.

It’s going to be a rough ride.

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