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Chileans Vote in Tight, Polarized Presidential Election

Frontrunners are a conservative and a former protest leader
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 21, 2021 5:50 PM CST
Chileans Vote in Tight, Polarized Presidential Election
Chilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric, of the political alliance "Apruebo Dignidad," or I Approve of Dignity, speaks to supporters during a closing campaign rally in Casablanca, Chile, Thursday. Chile will hold its presidential election on Nov. 21.   (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

(Newser) – Chileans were voting for a new president Sunday following a polarizing campaign in which the leading candidates vowed to chart starkly different paths for the region's most economically advanced country staggered by a recent wave of social unrest. Pre-election polls point to a large number of undecided voters but consistently have favored two of the seven candidates running: former student protest leader Gabriel Boric and his ideological opposite, José Antonio Kast, who has a history of defending Chile's past military dictatorship. But neither is expected to garner enough support to cross the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff vote next month, the AP reports.

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Within striking distance of the two frontrunners are center-right candidate Sebastián Sichel and center-left former Education Minister Yasna Provoste. Also up for grabs is Chile's entire 155-seat lower house of Congress and about half the Senate. Boric, 35, would become Chile's youngest modern president. He was among several student activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for higher quality education. Running as the head of a broad alliance that includes Chile's Communist Party, if elected he says he will raise taxes on the “super rich” to expand social services and boost protections of the environment. He's also vowed to eliminate the country's private pension system—one of the hallmarks of the free market reforms imposed in the 1980s by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Kast, 55, from the newly formed Republican Party, until recently was seen as an outsider on the far-right fringe, having won less than 8% of the vote in 2017 as an independent. But he's been steadily rising in the polls this time with a divisive discourse emphasizing conservative family values as well as attacking migrants—many from Haiti and Venezuela—he blames for crime. A fervent Roman Catholic and father of nine, Kast has also taken aim at the outgoing President Sebastian Pinera for allegedly betraying the economic legacy of Pinochet, which his brother helped implement as the dictator's central bank president. (Read more Chile stories.)

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