| 21 May 2024, Tuesday |

Uncertainty reigns as Chile presidential election enters home stretch

Chile’s presidential election began on Tuesday, with the final contenders registering late the night before for a fight to choose who will usher in a new constitution and face societal turmoil in the world’s top copper producer.

Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old left-wing congressman from Chile’s Patagonia, and Sebastian Sichel, a 44-year-old tattooed former minister who will try to keep the government conservative coalition together, are the early front-runners in the campaign.

By the Monday registration deadline, seven more candidates from various political parties had entered the race, heightening uncertainty and boosting the prospect of a spoiler, according to political analyst and pollster Kenneth Bunker.

Yasna Provoste, the incumbent Senate president who has been hailed for her ability to broker deals in Congress, and Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a four-time presidential candidate, have both announced their candidacies.

Further to the right is Jose Antonio Kast, an ultra-right lawmaker and former presidential candidate who has been compared to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. Meanwhile, the List of the People, the left-wing organization that has its roots in the protest movement and won significant representation on the body drafting Chile’s new constitution, has fielded independent indigenous leader Diego Ancalao.

“I would be very careful with making any projections this time around,” said Bunker, of consultancy Tresquintos. “Something unexpected could happen.”

The Eurasia Group risk consultancy said in a report that it foresaw a second round in which “the Left is well-placed to capitalize on the demand for change.”

Chile, long one of Latin America’s most stable and prosperous nations, was roiled by often-violent mass protests over inequality in 2019, forcing a referendum in which voters chose to rewrite its dictatorship constitution.

The candidate elected to take over from center-right President Sebastian Pinera will preside over the likely transition from the old Magna Carta, reviled by the left for its capitalist bent, to a new document currently being drafted.

The new president, Bunker said, is “going to be a very symbolic figure just by inaugurating the new constitution … and representing a changing of eras.”

Boric, a former student leader from the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) center-left coalition, has promised universal social benefits, decentralization and reform of Chile’s loathed private pensions system. Right-leaning Sichel, meanwhile, has said he will make tweaks to Chile’s free-market model but maintain its general tack.

The turbulent time in Chile has market watchers and industry on edge, as mining, environmental and social policies are key issues in both the presidential race and the constitutional convention.

  • Reuters