Kast, Boric face off in Chile’s polarised presidential runoff

Increased turnout expected in runoff election between far-right and social-democratic candidates.

A child casts a ballot on behalf of his mother during the presidential election at a polling station in Valparaiso, Chile [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

Antofagasta, Chile – From the bone dry Atacama desert in the north, all the way down to Antarctica, Chileans are voting for their next president in a contentious runoff election.

Sunday’s runoff – where polls opened at 8am (11:00 GMT) and will close at 6pm (21:00 GMT) – pits Jose Antonio Kast, a far-right conservative campaigning on law and order, against Gabriel Boric, a progressive social democrat advocating social justice.

Results are expected within a few hours of polls closing.

In last month’s first-round election, 47.3 percent of Chile’s more than 15 million registered voters participated.

This time around, voters began to show up as soon as polling opened rather than waiting until later in the day as they did last month.

Boric, a 35-year-old congressman and former student activist, promised to overhaul the pension system, advance LGBTQ and women’s rights, tackle climate change and increase mining royalties and corporate taxes.

Kast, a 55-year-old lawyer and former congressman, has championed security, government downsizing, and tax breaks to encourage investment.

His anti-LGBTQ track record and esteem for Pinochet have plagued his campaign.

Chile’s presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast shows his ballot as he casts a vote at a polling station in the Paine area, Santiago, Chile [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

“I voted for Kast,” Juan Diaz, 73, told Al Jazeera after casting his ballot at a local school in Antofagasta, more than 1,300km (808 miles) north of Santiago.

“Capital generates wellbeing. I go where the money is.”

Luis Perez, 29, said people have been using social media very actively to express their opinions about the election though some have been inciting hatred.

“I am going to vote for Boric,” said Perez. “I am thinking of the country as a whole.”

Meanwhile, the contrast between runoff candidates is starker than ever.

Since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-90 dictatorship, Chile has been governed by blocs closer to the political centre than the coalitions of Kast and Boric.

The winner will take office for a four-year term starting March next year. He will be in power for a planned referendum on a new constitution that elected citizen representatives are in the process of drafting.

The constitutional convention was a concession to mass protests against structural inequality in 2019.

Boric supported the replacement of the dictatorship-era constitution, while Kast opposed it.

Voter turnout on Sunday, especially younger voters, could prove critical. Kast had the advantage with voters over 50, while voters under 30 favoured Boric.

Chile’s presidential candidate Gabriel Boric takes a photo with supporters at a polling station in Punta Arenas, Chile [Juan Carlos Avendano/Reuters]

“This election process has mobilised a lot of people,” said Beatriz Vega, a member of the Red de Politologas, a network of women political scientists.

“At least in Boric’s campaign, they identified that the youth vote was low and I would say that in this second round the spontaneous campaign on social media was aimed at that public.

“In the case of Kast, I think it is harder to see what he did because he has not been in the public space as much.”

Source: Al Jazeera