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Polar opposite candidates head to run-off vote in Chile

By Rafael Romo and Daniela Mohor W.

The race to replace Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is now down to two candidates after a general election was held on Sunday.

José Antonio Kast, a candidate of the hard right, garnered 28 percent of the vote during Sunday’s election in Chile, missing the necessary 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

Kast, whose recent surge in popularity has surprised critics, has sometimes been compared to former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s current President Jair Bolsonaro.

He will face 35-year-old Gabriel Boric, a leftist candidate and former student leader, who came in second with 25 percent of the vote.

Representing polar opposites of Chile’s presidential race, Boric and Kast now head to a runoff vote on December 19.

This election comes two years after massive protests and riots shook the country in October 2019, with protesters demanding better pensions, better education, and the end of an economic system that they said favors the elite.

The unrest led now-outgoing President Sebastián Piñera to agree to a plebiscite about the need to change the constitution inherited from the dictatorship — a year later, Chileans overwhelmingly voted to draft a new constitution.

But Chile still hasn’t regained the stability for which it was once known. It has been hard-hit economically by the pandemic, and brutal clashes between protesters and security forces continue weekly in Santiago.

Considering the recent past, Boric was widely perceived as the presidential candidate who better represented the country’s social movement. He is a supporter of abortion rights, a welfare state model, and leads a broad coalition that includes Chile’s Communist Party.

But a powerful current of support for Kast, seen by some voters to represent stability and security, has upended predictions about the race. Kast emphasized rule of law, private property, a free market economy, and has even proposed building a three-meter ditch at strategic points of Chile’s northern border to stop the flow of migrants from other countries.

In an address to the nation Sunday, outgoing President Piñera congratulated both candidates.

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