Latin America’s small but wealthy Andean nation will see its citizens casting their votes for the presidential run-off on Dec. 19. Both the outsider candidates are promising to chart completely different paths.
According to poll data, leftist lawmaker and former student activist, Gabriel Boric, has a small lead over his ultra-conservative rival, Jose Antonio Kast, however, a volatile social mood means the race will be neck to neck.
Regardless of the outcome, the second round will bring about the most profound political shift since the country returned to democracy in 1990.
Research analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, Shreya Mukarji told CNBC in a video call, “There are no moderates anymore”.
She added, “So, we will really see exactly how Chilean society is divided in terms of the political spectrum. It is about choosing one of two extremes”. She further noted that Kast is “much more” extreme right than Boric is extreme left.
In 2019 and 2020, millions of people in Chile participated in anti-inequality to demand improvements to their quality of life and to show their anger at the legacy of Pinochet-era privatized social services.
The prolonged protests aided in making way for a redrafting of the country’s constitution. A referendum on whether to approve the new charter will be held next year.
Chile is a country of around 19.3 million people. It stretches down South America’s Pacific coast and is also the world’s top copper-producing country. It also has the largest known reserves of lithium — a lightweight metal that is an essential component to manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles.
Who will win?
Kast is a former congressman and father to nine children. He has been likened to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and former US President Donald Trump. Kast won the first round on Nov. 21 with some 28% of the vote. The 55-year-old led a field of candidates who fell well short of the majority needed to secure an outright victory.
Boric, 35, rose to prominence in 2011 as a protest leader demanding improvement for the country’s education system. He won about 26% in the first round — a close second to Kast.
No contender has won the Chile presidency following defeat in the first round. Yet, opinion polls have repeatedly shown Boric to be the most likely winner next week.
As per reports, analysts say Boric is the slight favorite to win the run-off. However, they cited two factors that could tip the scales in either candidate’s favor: The possibility of low voter turnout — which came in at 47.3% in the first round — and a still sizeable number of undecided voters.
“It is going to be a competitive election,” Maria Luisa Puig, director of Latin America for Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, told CNBC via telephone.
Puig said it had been her team’s view for a while that Boric would be most likely to win, highlighting “strong discontent” with the status quo.
She added that ”[President Sebastian] Pinera’s approval rating has been very low for most of his term, which suggests that there is a demand for change and therefore that the left — in this case, Boric — starts with an advantage.”