The first election round produced two contenders for the runoff that have diametrically opposed visions for society. In recent days, both have modified their positions drastically. That means they must also change their programs, but it’s uncertain how far they can go.
The winners of the first election round, right-wing José Antonio Kast and left-wing Gabriel Boric, have virtually abandoned the most controversial proposals in their government plans.
Changes refer notably to proposals that were seen as bedrocks of their campaigns before the elections on Nov. 21. And of course, both have lowered the noise and made eloquent gestures toward former adversaries.
Boric has already forgotten his strong criticism of the Christian Democrat party, whose candidate, after her loss at the ballots, offered him unconditional support, although the party said it will not be part of a possible government coalition. Kast, after posturing as antagonist to incumbent Sebastián Piñera, now laughs with him and appreciates the government’s support. That’s politics, some will say.
Surprising twists, in addition to unexpected cross-support and campaigns that parade faces from groups defeated in the first round. The two winning campaigns aim in the same direction, toward a diffuse, inorganic, and leaderless center.
Where the votes are
This is confusing for those who expected hardened polarized battle. But Boric quickly dropped a general amnesty for prisoners that were apprehended during the social outbreak, while Kast promised to not completely eliminate the Women’s Ministry.
The first week after an election is always key because it is replete with signals. Undoubtedly, Boric made a scoop by winning over Izkia Siches as spokesperson. Siches left her position as head of the Medical College where she gained visibility and acclaim as critic of the government’s half-baked pandemic measures.
Kast reciprocated with Paula Daza, who was health undersecretary and on television every day presenting the latest pandemic figures. She was the most popular government official. But it’s unclear how much Kast could benefit from the newfound closeness to the Piñera administration, which drew the worst approval ratings since 1990.
For now, it seems Kast has reached a ceiling, trailing Boric’s poll numbers by four to six points. In addition, it must be considered that Sebastián Sichel, the incumbent’s favorite and considered a centrist, is still reluctant to endorse Kast, depriving the latter of key votes.
Of course, it’ll be a totally different choice from the first round. Both contenders knew they would have to seek agreements and moderate the tone to compel potential allies. But the contest is also between two candidates that seemed most unlikely to reach the current spot. Two completely opposite political and social projects that represent social changes and crises at the same time.
The major right-wing parties – UDI, RN and the PRI – immediately declared unconditional support for Kast after the elections. Supposedly liberal-right Evópoli party joined reluctantly later on, knowing this decision will trigger catastrophic consequences, considering that Kast openly admires Augusto Pinochet, opposes divorce, abortion and marriage equality, all of which should be anathema to Evópoli’s electorate and some of its members.
On the opposite, Boric received enthusiastically the surprise backing of former president Ricardo Lagos, a representative of the old neoliberal left, which was heavily scorned by the new left Boric represents. And in a sign that politics is the art of the possible, several former center-left ministers and lawmakers, often derided by the Boric camp, also came out in favor of his bid.
In addition, the Communist Party – which did rather well in the elections – has tried to keep silent to not complicate Boric’s campaign. The attempt has been only marginally successful, since former presidential hopeful and popular mayor of Santiago’s Recoleta district, Daniel Jadue, insulted voters of the People’s Party, whose leader Franco Parisi came in third during the elections. Support from this segment will be crucial in the runoff.
Both Boric and Kast have sent signals to reassure the markets, convincing some experts who are constantly doing the TV and seminar circuit to join their respective campaigns. They also adjusted their economic programs to the state’s tight fiscal reality.
Losing but Winning
But the truth is that the two losing coalitions – the former Concertación and Chile Vamos – succeeded in installing their own operators in both campaigns, despite the heavy election losses.
Parisi won almost one million votes and could become a direct factor. He has not yet declared which side he supports, throwing darts against both candidates. With an air of an evangelical pastor, and from his refuge in the US, where he has stayed for the last two years, even during election, he speaks of “his people” as if he has absolute control over their votes.
However, despite Boric’s changes in public security or Kast’s belated recognition that global warming is a reality, the truth is that both candidates have not talked much about moral-ethical considerations. Undoubtedly in that area, the flanks are much more open for Kast. His campaign catered very faithfully to conservative convictions, as did his party’s candidates. Their retrograde proposals regarding the role of women and diversity are far from the profound changes society experienced in the last 20 years.
Will Morals Decide?
Ethical definitions and a vision of society are fundamental for many voters, including those who have changed sides or did a political U-turn.
In the week after the election, several Republican Party candidates and Kast allies made statements that fell like buckets of cold water on the attempts of their leader to soften the ethical-moral image he has cultivated, showing that pragmatic changes to an economic program are possible, but fleeing from convictions is more difficult. To this added statements by his supporters that remind us of Kast’s closeness to and friendship with Bolsonaro or Trump. Johannes Kaiser, a YouTuber elected lawmaker, has generated acidic controversies over his xenophobia and misogyny, questioning women’s right to vote and paying respect to rapists who attack “ugly” women, among others. Although Kaiser resigned from Kast’s party, the damage to his campaign is incalculable, considering how the country has evolved.
We will see after December 5 – the deadline to register the program the electorate will vote for – what remains of the original programs. Surely it will be very little, but certain convictions will remain with Boric and Kast no matter what.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.