Chileans go to the polls with two radically different views on the ballot

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SANTIAGO, Nov.21 (Reuters) – Chileans voted on Sunday in what is widely considered the country’s most controversial presidential election since democracy returned in 1990, as a former congressman of extreme Right is fighting a leftist who has thrown his support behind massive street protests.

Long lines have developed at many polling stations amid coronavirus-related social distancing protocols and relatively high turnout. Some voters said they stood in line for more than two hours in the heat of nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

“The reports available to us indicate that there has been a strong turnout so far,” government spokesman Jaime Bellolio told reporters.

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Right, José Antonio Kast, a 55-year-old Catholic and father of nine, has pledged to crack down on crime and hailed the neoliberal “economic legacy” of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

His outspoken rhetoric, widespread conservatism, and sometimes idiosyncratic political ideas, such as digging a wedge to curb illegal immigration, have frequently been compared with former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

On the left, lawmaker Gabriel Boric, 35, who led student protests in 2011 to demand improvements to the Chilean education system, has pledged to abandon the country’s laissez-faire business model, while strengthening environmental protections and indigenous rights. Overall, it represents a significant break between conservative and centrist politics that have dominated Chilean politics for decades.

“For me, the most important thing is to establish a country where people have rights,” said 54-year-old lawyer Romario Deluca, as he stood in line to vote for Boric in central Santiago.

“Human rights, housing, health, whatever your income. “

The election comes after two years of spectacular, sometimes violent protests by Chileans demanding improvements in the quality of life. The protests contributed to an ongoing rewrite of the country’s constitution during Pinochet’s day and propelled the candidacy of Boric, who for much of the race held a comfortable lead.

But growing Chilean fatigue is fed up with political violence, combined with a widespread perception that crime is on the rise, Kast said.

In most polls, Kast won the most votes on Sunday by a few percentage points, while a likely runoff in December would be extremely competitive.

“He will defeat drug trafficking, which is doing so much harm to our country,” Gloria Reyes Flores, a 66-year-old widow from the upscale district of Santiago de Las Condes, said of the right-wing candidate. “He will also control immigration because there are a lot of immigrants who come to harm Chile.”

A wild card will be the performance of the more moderate candidates. Right center Sebastian Sichel and left center Yasna Provoste both vote between 10% and 15%, at least 10 percentage points behind Kast and Boric. But pollsters say a surprise is still possible given that millions of voters remain undecided.

Barring a shocking outcome, Kast and Boric will scramble to win back voters for Sichel and Provoste in a run-off scheduled for December 19, making the more moderate contenders potential kingmakers.

If either of the top two candidates manages to secure 2 million votes, said Kenneth Bunker, director of political consultancy Tresquintos, it could be a good indicator that they have broadened their base enough to win in a possible event. second round.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. (11:00 a.m. GMT) and are expected to close at 6:00 p.m., with results expected shortly thereafter.

Chile’s 155 lower house seats, 27 of the country’s 50 upper house seats and all positions in the country’s 16 regional councils are also up for grabs.

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Reporting by Gram Slattery and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda; Editing by Sandra Maler, Kirsten Donovan and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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