Voters go to the polls for Chile’s presidential election

Chileans will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president following a polarizing campaign between a brand of the free market compared to Donald Trump and a former millennial student protest leader who is committed to fighting inequality.

Jose Antonio Kast, a lawmaker who is used to defending Chile’s former military dictatorship, finished first in the first round of voting last month but failed to secure a majority of the vote.

This set up a head-to-head against Gabriel Boric, who trailed him by around two percentage points.

Opinion polls in recent days have consistently shown an advantage for Mr Boric, albeit at times with a margin of error, meaning the competition is likely to be decided by the candidate capable of energizing his base while at the same time winning over the majority of voters who do not side with the political extremes.

“Participation will mean everything,” said Robert Funk, a political scientist at the University of Chile.

Jose Antonio Kast holds his campaign closing rally (Esteban Felix / AP / PA)

Mr Kast, 55, a devout Roman Catholic and father of nine, has emerged from the far-right fringe after winning less than 8% of the vote in 2017.

He has risen steadily in the polls this time with a divisive speech emphasizing conservative family values ​​and playing on Chilean fears that an increase in migration – from Haiti and Venezuela – will lead to criminality.

A longtime lawmaker, he’s used to attacking Chile’s LGBTQ community and advocating for more restrictive abortion laws. His brother, Miguel, was a senior adviser to General Augusto Pinochet, the country’s former military leader.

Mr Boric, 35, would become Chile’s youngest modern president and was one of several activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for better education.

Gabriel Boric waves to his supporters at a campaign rally
Gabriel Boric greets his supporters during an electoral rally (Matias Delacroix / AP / PA)

If elected, he said he would “bury” the neoliberal economic model left by Mr. Pinochet and raise taxes on the “super rich” to develop social services, fight inequalities and strengthen protection of the environment.

In recent days, the two candidates have tried to turn towards the central field.

“I am not an extremist. … I don’t feel quite right, ”Kast said even as he was pursued by revelations that his German-born father had been a full member of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.

Meanwhile, Mr Boric, who is backed by a coalition of left-wing parties that includes the Chilean Communist Party, has brought in more centrist advisers to his team and has promised any changes will be gradual and fiscally responsible.

Whoever wins is likely to have a slim term and be surrounded by a divided Congress.

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