| 21 April 2024, Sunday |

Change, freedom, order: Chilean dreams differ ahead of historic vote

Chilean voters are split on what they want from the future, ahead of a historic presidential election on Sunday between two polarized contenders, one promising social reform and the other vowing to crack down on crime.

After wrapping up their campaigns this week, ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast and leftist Gabriel Boric will face off in the election, hoping to win over middle-ground voters who could make the difference in a close race.

“What is at stake now in Chile is democracy itself,” said Julia Acevedo, an 80-year-old housewife who attended Boric’s final campaign rally in the capital. “The country requires change, and he, as a young man, has the potential to make a difference.”

Kast supporters, on the other hand, want stability. They say Boric – who has taken aim at Chile’s market-oriented economic model for stoking inequality – will undo decades of growth and stability and criticize his alliance with the Communist Party.

“I will keep supporting freedom,” said Margarita Noguera, waving a Chilean flag stamped with a picture of 55-year-old Kast. She said she had lived through the “leftist dictatorship” of democratically-elected socialist president Salvador Allende in the 1970s.

“I suffered a lot, like so many other Chileans.”

Angela Marambio, 53, said she had backed a center-right candidate in the first round in November, but was switching her vote to Kast for the run-off.

“Chile needs stability, order and security,” she said.


Kast, a lawyer and religious father of nine, has defended the economic legacy of dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose bloody military rule from 1973-1990 overthrew Allende in a coup and established the country’s economic model.

Huge protests erupted in 2019 against that model, which many see as the reason for issues ranging from meager private pensions to expensive healthcare and education.

Cristian Morales, 51, a public official from Punta Arenas in Chile’s southern tip, Boric’s home region, said the leftist candidate could finally change things.

“I do not believe he will be able to make all the changes that are needed, but he will accelerate the process,” said Morales, citing plans for spending on pensions and education.

“If I were to retire tomorrow I’d fall under the poverty line. I have two young children, education is expensive. If we want more solidarity in society, the state has to get involved.”

Boric, who made his name leading student demonstrations for better quality education, has sought to channel the energy and demand for change sparked by Chile’s 2019 protests.

Kast has done the opposite, with a tough law and order message that has appealed to a significant segment of the country weary of protests.

Enrique Zuleta, 41, a businessman from the coastal city of La Serena, said for years he voted for the center-left coalition that governed much of the post-dictatorship period and gave Chile a reputation for stability. Now he is backing Kast.

“I did not grow up in a right-wing environment at all, but today my vote is pragmatic, for the national good,” he said.

“Kast has many ideological issues with which I do not agree. But… he has said that he will respect the laws. And that is important to me.”

Boric supporters say he will defend issues such as women’s rights to abortion – allowed only in certain circumstances – and will respect sexual diversity, in focus after the country this month approved same-sex marriage.

Kast has criticized both abortion and gay marriage.

Polls indicate women, especially younger women, are more likely to vote for Boric.

“I am afraid of Kast,” said Andrea Ramirez, a 26-year-old public administrator. “He worries me about the environment, the role of the state, the pensions of Chileans. And what rights will women have?”

  • Reuters