Chile: Voters head to polls in divisive presidential runoff

Voters in Chile will choose between two candidates with polar opposite views. Recent opinion polls show left-wing candidate Gabriel Boric leading right-wing populist Jose Antonio Kast.

Chileans are casting their ballots Sunday in a hotly contested runoff between two candidates offering starkly divergent visions of the country’s future on a range of issues from pensions to privatization and even human rights.

Voters must choose between Gabriel Boric, 35, a millennial former student protest leader who has vowed to raise taxes on the “super-rich” and Jose Antonio Kast, 55, a devout Catholic and father of nine who has repeatedly defended the country’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Kast’s brother Miguel was one of Pinochet’s top advisors and his candidacy has been haunted by revelations that his German father was a member of the Nazis. There are concerns in some quarters about a return to mass protests should Kast triumph in Sunday’s vote.

Robert Funk, a political scientist at the University of Chile in Santiago, told AP news agency, “Turnout will mean everything.”

“Neither side is particularly enthused with their candidate but they are voting out of fear that, if Kast wins, there will an authoritarian regression or because they fear Boric is too young, inexperienced, and aligned with the communists,” Funk explained.

Why is there a runoff?

In the first round, both Boric and Kast drew less than 30% of the vote with Kast ahead of Boric by 2%, forcing the runoff. Boric however held the capital Santiago with a comfortable lead.

Both candidates have worked to persuade the centrist middle of the electorate since then.

Both candidates are outside the centrist middle which has ruled Chile since the country returned to democracy after the years of military rule under Pinochet.

With polling stations closing at 6 p.m. (2100 GMT), initial results are set to follow soon after.

How do Chileans feel headed into the vote?

The last opinion polls taken before the vote showed Boric ahead with his lead widening though most polls show a tight race.

Lucrecia Cornejo, a 72-year-old seamstress, told Reuters news agency as she stood in line to cast her ballot for Boric, “I want real change.” She hoped Boric could do something about inequities in education, pensions, and health care.

Dental student Florencia Vergara, 25, told Reuters she supports Kast as a “lesser evil” in economic matters.

“I like his proposals on economic issues, although I don’t agree with all his political ideals,” she said.

Chile has a population of 19 million and is the world’s largest producer of copper.

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