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Kast, Boric and the paradox of Chilean politics

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The second round of the presidential election of the Chile it will be a race to the center, because most voters want change, but without radicalism. Will any of the candidates succeed?

At first glance, something seems inexplicable: just a year after 80% of voters went to the polls to demand a new Constitution, and six months after choosing the Constituent Assembly responsible for drafting the new Charter, with a clear majority on the left, on Sunday, the Chileans showed plurality in the first round by voting for Jose antonio kast, a former Conservative MP who opposes the new constitution and downplayed human rights violations committed by the military dictatorship.

With a clear boost in his favor, Kast now has a real chance of becoming Chile’s next president, in the second round to be held on December 19. Are Chilean voters behaving erratically? Will they regret the process of writing the new Constitution?

I would say no, there is no confusion and no regrets. Last year, most Chileans wanted – and still want to this day – pragmatic and moderate changes in social policies and economic inclusion, but without throwing the child out with the bathwater. While Chileans want a new constitution that gives them more social rights, they also want to maintain many aspects of the economic model that has brought so much prosperity to their country over the past three decades. They want the new Constitution to guarantee more social rights, but also a government that respects law and order. The presidential race must be won by the candidate who best articulates this balance.

towards the center

As expected, Kast and Gabriel Boric, leftist and deputy in his second term, finished first and second in the first round of the presidential election. Kast and Boric received 28% and 25.7% of the vote, respectively, as predicted by the poll. With the remaining 46% of voters opting for other candidates, the race to win the second round will force Kast and Boric to win those voters.

With a turnout of just under 50%, the first round did not attract more voters than previous presidential elections, casting doubt on the claim that Chileans are highly polarized and more interested in the political than in previous elections.

Turnout is unlikely to be much higher in the second round. Therefore, the candidates will have to win over voters whose first choices are no longer in the running. It will be easier for Kast to attract voters who voted in the first round for Sebastián Sichel (12.7%), the current presidential candidate, Sebastián Piñera. In turn, it will be easier for Boric to attract those who voted for Yasna Provoste (11.6%), a candidate of the center-left New Social Pact (a coalition that held power for most of the period between 1990 and 2018), and in the leftist candidates Marco Enríquez-Ominami (7.6%) and Eduardo Artés (1.5%).

But the trump card will be the voters who voted for the candidate who surprised everyone, finishing in third place with 12.9% of the vote: economist Franco Parisi, who lives in the United States and has campaigned only on the internet (since he was reportedly unable to travel to Chile due to a lawsuit he is undergoing for non-payment of child support). He had already been a presidential candidate, in 2013, with a right-wing, market-friendly populist platform.

This time, Parisi campaigned as an anti-system candidate. Some of those voters may abstain, but Kast will try to entice them with a message of equal opportunities in capitalism and respect for law and order, while Boric should tempt them with Social Security and a morally progressive program.

In his victory speech, Kast addressed the average voter directly, while Boric focused more on left-wing voters and the big challenge ahead. If igniting the base is more important for Boric, he will also need the support of more moderate voters, who worry about his inexperience, young age (35) and radical overtures. In turn, Kast will have to convince voters that he is reasonable and will have to abandon more right-wing populist proposals (such as tax breaks and spending increases).

Kast’s political camp will try to make elections a choice between democracy and communism, while Boric’s political camp will try to make a choice between democracy and fascism. As both will try to terrify voters because of their rival, we will see a lot of negative campaigns.

As in other presidential elections, candidates will seek to present themselves as moderates and label their rivals as radical. People could end up choosing between the lesser of evils, and when the next president takes over, their approval could quickly crumble as voters would be disappointed with the priorities of a president who was not their first choice.

The next Congress will also be a difficult environment to pass reforms, with both Houses leaning slightly to the left following Sunday’s vote, but without a clear majority for the candidates.

A message

As candidates from both ideological extremes entered the second round, some might be tempted to claim that Chileans are polarized. However, more voters voted for moderate candidates – although fragmented support prevented any of them from qualifying for the second round. Moreover, the Chileans know that all candidates must adopt more moderate positions in the second round. The country has experienced second-round conflicts in every election held since 1999.

Chileans also know that the impact of this year’s presidential election will be more limited as a new constitution is being drafted. If the new Charter brings about sufficiently significant changes in the political system, new elections could be called when (and if) the Constitution is adopted in a referendum to be held in the second half of 2022. In other words: Kast and Le borique’s tenure could be shortened and Chile could adopt, for example, a parliamentary system.

This explains why the impact that the constituent Assembly what comes out of Chilean political institutions will be far more important than any political priority that the government is able to advance. In reality, if the Constituent Assembly and the new government do not agree on priorities, the Constituent Assembly will have the final say, as it completes the drafting of the new Constitution months after the new government is sworn in.

While a conflict between a new government that pushes its priorities forward and the Constituent Assembly, which has its own priorities, seems possible, Chileans might want to introduce checks and balances by voting for a government that can dampen the fundamental momentum. of the Constituent Assembly.

Indeed, four months after the start of its deliberations, more Chileans reject than they approve of the work of the Constituent Assembly. Ravaged by scandals and controversies over the exaggerated words of some of its members (such as changing the name of the country or changing its flag), the Constituent Assembly is beginning to worry those who fear that the new Constitution will bring too many changes. .

The fact remains that the growing dissatisfaction with the Constituent Assembly should not be confused with a rejection of the new Constitution. Like parents unhappy with the choice of their sons-in-law but excited that they will be grandparents, Chileans always love the idea of ​​having a new constitution that will make their country a more just place.

Equality

While also knowing that reducing income inequalities and increasing opportunities for all depends on a strong economy, Chileans seem to have signaled in the November 21 elections that now that the Constituent Assembly is focusing on means to distribute wealth better, they want a government that focuses on reviving the economy and prioritizing public order.

With the campaign for the second round only just beginning and Boric and Kast must double the number of votes they got in the first round to become Chile’s next president, it is still too early for us to know the name. of the next leader. What we all know is that Chileans will reward anyone who succeeds in winning over moderate voters. / TRANSLATION BY AUGUSTO CALIL.

* IS CHRONICLE OF AMERICAS QUARTERLY, PROFESSOR OF LIBERAL STUDIES AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY (NYU) AND POLITICAL SCIENCE AT DIEGO PORTALES UNIVERSITY, CHILE.



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