Sunday’s landmark election will decide the future of Chile

Sunday’s general elections offer Chileans another opportunity to consolidate the process of change, initiated during the October 2019 social uprising against decades of neoliberal policies and glaring social inequalities

November 21, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa

On Sunday, November 21, over 18 million Chileans are set to 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. The upcoming general elections are significant as they offer Chileans another opportunity to consolidate the process of change that was initiated during the October 2019 social uprising against decades of neoliberal policies and glaring social inequalities.

Months of protests forced the authorities to agree to the citizens’ demand to replace the current constitution that was written and imposed in 1980 under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) with a new and inclusive constitution. Social movements, trade unions and progressive sectors argued that the constitution drafted during the Pinochet era laid the foundation for the rampant inequality.

After approving the drafting of a new constitution with an overwhelming majority in the national plebiscite on October 25, 2020, earlier this year, on May 15 and 16, Chileans elected the members of the Constitutional Convention, the body responsible for writing the country’s new constitution. The majority of citizens entrusted independent and left-wing representatives with this task. Sunday’s vote provides Chileans with another chance to choose candidates who advocate long-delayed social rights, such as social security, free education and healthcare, decent housing and employment.

The new government, during its first year in office, will have the responsibility of organizing a referendum to approve or reject the text of a new constitution. It will also be responsible for putting the new constitution into effect after it is ratified in a mandatory popular vote during the second half of 2022. The new president and the newly elected legislators will be sworn in on March 11, 2022.

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Seven candidates are contesting the presidential race: 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, Yasna Provoste of the center-left New Social Pact coalition, 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. A candidate needs over 50% of the vote to win outright in the first round. If no candidate receives a simple majority, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates on December 19.

According to various opinion polls, Boric, Kast, Sichel and Provoste are leading the voting intention, with none of them likely to win in the first round. The 35-year-old former student leader and current deputy Boric, and the 55-year-old lawyer and former congressman Kast are the two front-runners. Behind them are 43-year-old lawyer Sichel and 51-year-old senator Provoste. The majority of opinion polls suggest that mot probably, the progressive candidate Boric and conservative Kast will face off in December.

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Who is Gabriel Boric? How does he plan to address the crises facing Chile?

Gabriel Boric, who is the most preferred candidate for presidency, emerged as a 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’s government programs are based on four pillars: decentralization, economic development, environmental justice, and gender equality. He advocates government decentralization and climate change mitigation. He plans to recover the economy through green investments. He supports the legalization of abortion, equal marriage and single-parent families.

He has promised to guarantee universal social benefits. He has also vowed to increase state spending on social services, such as universal health insurance and environment friendly economic solutions. He has sworn to guarantee decent salaries and reduce the working hours to 40 hours a week. He has proposed to introduce progressive taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

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 has declared that he will 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 has also taken a stand against the militarization of the Biobio and La Araucania regions, where Mapuche Indigenous communities have demanded that the government return their ancestral lands. Boric promotes dialogue to find a solution to the historic conflict. The regions have been under a state of emergency since last month. The police repression of peaceful protests has left at least two dead.

Regarding increased immigration from the north, Boric has proposed to revise international agreements on the subject and increase cooperation between Chile and the countries of origin of the migrants and refugees.

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