Chile’s business model put to the test as voters go to the polls

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Chileans will vote on Sunday in the first general election since mass anti-government protests two years ago, with voters leaning to the extremes as they reject the political establishment.

The elections, which will likely take place in the second round in December, are seen as a referendum on the Chilean economic model which has seen one of the best growths in Latin America in recent decades, but failed to make it. widely distribute the benefits among the population.

“Those who are poor die poor. The wealth of our country is unevenly distributed, ”said Carolina Cavieres, a 35-year-old mother of two who voted in La Pintana, a working-class suburb south of Santiago.

Outside the polling station, José Peredo, 50, who moved to La Pintana in 1983 when it was still the countryside, said Chileans were disillusioned because “[the elite] want all the cake for themselves. . . they promised us equality if we became a democracy, and see what we have. He gestured toward the rows of cramped social housing that overlooked a congested freeway.

The two favorites to be Chile’s next president present radically different visions for the country’s future.

Leading the seven candidates to close the polls was José Antonio Kast, an ultra-conservative 55-year-old father of nine who defends free markets and traditional values. “Chile needs peace, Chile needs order. . . I invite you this Sunday to challenge yourself with me, ”Kast said to the cheering crowd at his closing rally on Thursday.

Kast has spoken out against immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion. He appealed to Chilean voters alienated by the left, vowing to restore order and cut taxes as part of his new nationalist Republican party he founded in 2019.

His main opponent is Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old congressman and former radical student leader. Boric pledged to do away with the private pension system and bury the country’s “neoliberal” past of market-driven policies that have failed to reduce social divisions. He is running in a broad left-wing coalition that includes the Chilean Communist Party.

Boric, who would become the country’s youngest president in more than two centuries if elected, said the so-called “Chilean miracle” “was just for the outside world, not for us.”

Gabriel Boric votes on Sunday. He is part of a broad left-wing coalition that includes the Chilean Communist Party © JOSE MIGUEL CARDENAS / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

The central problem is not that people are extremely poor, said Marta Lagos, a Chilean investigator and sociologist based in Santiago. “People in Chile have the basics,” compared to other Latin American countries, she said, but they are not equally divided.

“Where’s Mr. Joe Average?” It doesn’t exist, ”Lagos said, noting that at least 50% of the Chilean population earns less than $ 800 per month, which is less than the national GDP per capita of $ 1,100 recorded last year by the Bank. global.

“People are asking for the redistribution of wealth to change, which is why candidates like Boric have emerged,” Lagos said.

This Sunday is the first presidential election since estallido, or explosion, of anti-government protests in 2019, sparked by fare hikes in Santiago’s metro, which quickly escalated into anger at the high cost of living and income inequality.

A new Congress, regional advisers and more than half of the Senate are up for grabs.

In the absence of an absolute presidential winner likely to be announced in the first round, the Congress vote will be decisive on Monday, said Claudia Heiss, head of political science at the University of Chile.

No party holds a majority and the lower house is expected to become “even more fragmented” after Sunday, Heiss said, with as many as 13 different parties forced to negotiate for a majority.

“The independents further to the left and further to the right will get more seats. . . representatives will therefore be forced to forge alliances to pass legislation, regardless of who is appointed president, ”said Heiss.

Congress will have to approve a new text of the current constitution which will be submitted to a plebiscite in the third quarter of next year. In July, a voter-approved assembly began drafting a replacement for the current deeply divisive constitution, adopted in 1980 in the midst of General Augusto Pinochet’s regime.

The constitution favors private enterprise, which its supporters say has resulted in the country’s vigorous growth and lifted millions of people out of poverty. But for many it represents a direct link with the dictatorship, despite numerous modifications. The new assembly could weaken the president’s powers and expand the reach of the Chilean state.

Abstentions on Sunday are expected to be high. About 50 percent of the population is likely to vote, an “optimistic estimate,” Lagos said. Unlike other Latin American countries, voting in Chile is voluntary. The low turnout is due in part to an “immense” voter apathy and a “representation crisis” within traditional parties, Lagos said.

Peredo de La Pintana said he tried to convince his son over lunch to join him at the polling station. “I have been in debt for 20 years, it takes months to see a doctor and crime is only getting worse. We have to do something. “


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