Chile was a regional model. Now voters want change

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SANTIAGO, Nov. 18 (Reuters) – Chile, which stretches along the copper-rich Andean mountains of South America’s Pacific coast, has a certain reputation among its neighbors: stable and almost stable in a region in plagued by political upheavals and regular economic crises.

That identity is now at stake as the country heads towards a polarized election on Sunday with far-right and far-left candidates leading the polls, pushed by voters demanding a change since widespread protests two years ago. years and which could now force The most brutal political change in Chile in decades.

Over the past 30 years, since the return to democracy following Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship, moderate political parties on the right and left have overseen Chile’s rapid growth and pushed the country to become a regional model.

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Now the favorites to be Chile’s next president are Jose Antonio Kast, a far-right lawyer often compared to Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, and left-wing lawmaker and former protest leader Gabriel Boric, who has allied with the Communist Party.

“This represents the most significant political paradigm shift since 1990,” said Nicholas Watson, Latin America analyst for consultancy Teneo. Pollsters expect Kast and Boric to participate in the second round in December.

Both candidates represent a new political generation outside the mainstream, moving away from the so-called Concertacion coalition of center-left parties that ruled Chile for decades and the current moderate center-left coalition. law.

Boric wants to “bury” the Chilean neoliberal model while Kast, who has praised Pinochet’s economic legacy and once joked that the former dictator would vote for him if he was still alive, wants to reduce the size of the state and lower taxes.

“There is a disruption underway,” political scientist Cristobal Bellolio said, adding that it was the result of months of angry social protests that erupted in 2019 and sparked a process of overhauling Chile’s Pinochet-era Constitution. .

“It calls into question the official story of progress that Chile has told itself and told to the rest of the world.”

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‘URGENT CHANGE’

In Latin America, Chile stands out.

World Bank indicators on rule of law, regulation, governance and political stability show that Chile far exceeds its large regional neighbors of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Peru. It is one of the few OECD members in the region and a free trade icon.

Its economic model, rooted in the pro-market neoliberal policies of the so-called “Chicago Boys” economists under Pinochet in the 1970s-1980s, has been copied by others, in the hope of emulating its history of rapid economic growth. and stable.

Critics of his model, however, say the growth has not been distributed evenly, creating a small, wealthy business elite overtaking normal Chileans who have faced the high costs of privatized health care and education and meager pensions.

“Chile is in urgent need of change today,” said Luz Vergara, 37, an assistant at an engineering company in Santiago who is considering voting for Kast. “While no candidate represents me 100%, Kast gives me some security.”

More traditional candidates, such as Yasna Provoste on the center-left and Sebastian Sichel on the moderate right, were ousted by voters in search of more radical answers.

The challenges will not be easy: reducing inequalities, appeasing protests in the capital Santiago and clashes with indigenous groups in the south of the country, contentious pension withdrawals and overseeing the process of agreeing to a new Constitution.

This document – along with the political changes – could dramatically change the way Chile is viewed, analysts say, with investors monitoring what’s going on with private property laws, central bank autonomy and fiscal policy. .

Romina Aliaga, a 28-year-old environmental engineer, said she voted for leftist Boric because the country needed major social change to move beyond its conservative past.

“Its agenda is aligned with the improvements we need as a country, so that we can move forward and not back down on issues such as environmental policies, gender equality and abortion,” a- she declared. “These are subjects that interest me a lot.

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Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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