Who are the leading candidates in Chile’s upcoming presidential elections?

Ahead of the general elections in Chile on November 21, we look at the leading presidential candidates, their backgrounds and their proposals to address the various issues in the country

October 11, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
Leading presidential candidates in Chile’s presidential elections: Gabriel Boric, Sebastián Sichel, Yasna Provoste and José Antonio Kast. Photo: Midhun Puthupattu

On November 21, over 18 million Chileans will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president, 155 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 27 of 50 members of the Senate for the period 2022-2026. These elections come after the historic electoral process to elect the members of the constituent assembly to draft a new constitution; the regional and municipal elections to elect mayors, councilors and governors; and the primaries to choose candidates from the major coalitions earlier this year.

In the presidential race, a total number of 7 candidates are contesting. If no candidate receives a simple majority (50% of the votes) in the first round, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates on December 19. The new president and the newly elected legislators will be sworn in on March 11, 2022.

According to various opinion polls, the candidates who are leading the voting intention include Gabriel Boric of the left-wing ‘Approve Dignity’ coalition, José Antonio Kast of the far-right Republican Party, Sebastián Sichel of the ruling right-wing ‘Chile We Can (Do) More’ coalition, and Yasna Provoste of the center-left New Social Pact coalition.

The majority of opinion polls suggest that the second round will be inevitable, and will most probably be between Boric and Kast, as Sichel’s numbers fell sharply in the month of September. The recent polls by pollsters Activa, Cadem, Criteria and Data Influye show that Boric is leading with between 19.9% to 26.5% of votes. Meanwhile, Kast follows him with between 16.1% and 18% of the votes. Sichel and Provoste follow with between 10% and 15%, and between 11% and 13% respectively. The recent crises in Chile regarding the anti-migrant protests and the implication of sitting-president Sebastian Piñera in the Pandora papers regarding the use of offshore accounts, is likely to impact the vote in the country.

Who is Gabriel Boric?

35-year-old Boric is a former student leader and a member of the Chamber of Deputies. He emerged as a prominent young leader during the 2011-12 student protests, which demanded free university education for all and pointed to the glaring inequalities in the country. In the 2013 legislative elections, he was elected as an independent candidate to represent the Magallanes and Antarctic region in the lower house of Congress. He was re-elected in 2017 with an increased majority. Presently, he is a member of the progressive Social Convergence Party, a part of the left-wing Broad Front bloc in Congress.

Boric won the ‘Approve Dignity’ primary election against Recoleta mayor Daniel Jadue of the Chilean Communist Party, receiving approximately 60% of the votes in July. If Boric wins the elections, he will become Chile’s youngest president ever.

Boric advocates government decentralization and climate change mitigation. Boric plans to recover the economy through green investments. He has promised to guarantee universal social benefits. He has vowed to increase state spending on social services, such as universal health insurance and environment friendly economic solutions.

He has also pledged to replace the country’s pension system (AFP), which is managed by private insurers and has been a cause of dispute between the government and the population since last year, with a public alternative. He proposes to introduce progressive taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. He has sworn to reform the national police force, the Carabineros, which has been called out for its brutality countless times by organizations within and outside Chile since the 2019 protests.

Boric’s position on foreign policy has been met with disapproval by progressives in Chile. He hasn’t spoken against imperialist powers and has openly criticized the socialist governments of president Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and president Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua for being “autocratic”.

Who is José Antonio Kast?

55-year-old Kast is a lawyer and former congressman. Between 1996 and 2000, he was a councilor of Buin city. In 2001, he was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies for Santiago’s district 30. He was re-elected consecutively and served in the lower house from 2002 to 2018. This is the second time he is running for presidency. In 2017, he received the fourth highest number of votes.

Kast was against the drafting of a new constitution, written and imposed under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). On several occasions, he had even defended Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Kast is the most extremist and conservative candidate. His proposals include strengthening support for security forces, particularly following the 2019 popular uprising, and creating stricter immigration policies, including a police force similar to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He has also stated that he would try to reverse a law, passed in 2017, which allows abortion in three conditions. He has said that he would deploy military forces in regions where the indigenous communities are often in conflict with law enforcement forces.

Apart from these four contenders, Eduardo Artés Brichetti of the left-wing Patriotic Union party, Marco Enríquez-Ominami of the left-wing Progressive party and Franco Aldo Parisi right-wing Party of the People are also running for presidency and are polling below 10% of the votes.

Who is Sebastián Sichel?

43-year-old Sichel is a lawyer and has served in different positions in the ruling government, but is yet to hold an elected public office. This is his third run for a public office after two unsuccessful bids. He ran twice for Congress in 2009 and 2013 as a member of the center-left Christian Democratic party. Two years later, in 2015, he joined the center-left Citizens Party. Then again two years later, in 2017, he expressed his support for the ruling right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. In 2018, Piñera appointed him as vice president of the Production Development Corporation (CORFO). In 2019, Piñera named Sichel as his minister of social development. The following year, in 2020, he left the office to become the president of Chile’s state bank. In December 2020, he resigned from the position to run for presidency as an independent candidate in the primary election of ‘Chile We Can Do More’.

Sichel won the coalition’s primary, beating Ignacio Briones of the Political Evolution party, Mario Desbordes of the National Renewal party and Joaquín Lavín of the Independent Democratic Union party (UDI). He received 49% of the votes.

Sichel proposes to make the government more efficient by, among other things, reducing the number of ministries from 24 to 18. He has said that he supports the country’s free-market economic policies, but will also introduce social policies. He has promised to aid childhood food programs, housing, and mental health services. He has also vowed to support same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Who is Yasna Provoste?

51-year-old Provoste is a senator of the Christian Democratic party. She is the only woman and person with an indigenous background among the leading candidates. She served as planning minister from 2004 to 2006, and education minister from 2006 to 2008 until she was removed from office following allegations of financial irregularities in the ministry. Her impeachment, widely perceived as politically motivated, barred her from public office for five years. In 2013, she won a seat in the lower house of Congress, and in 2017 she was elected to the Senate. She was the president of the Senate from March to August 2021.

Provoste won the alliance’s primary, defeating Carlos Maldonado of the Radical Party and Paula Narváez of the Socialist Party, securing over 60% of the votes. She will give a good fight to both Boric for the left’s vote and Sichel for the center’s.

Provoste plans to expand the state’s participation in public sectors and supports progressive social policies such as universal basic income. She has proposed to reform the current private pension system instead of replacing it with a public system like Boric. She has promised to make changes to the national police force.

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