Linguist and philosopher George Lakoff says the so-called political center is made up of “biconceptual”, that is, by “people who are conservative in some aspects of life and progressive in others.” The vast majority of politicians globally are looking for such people to “Promise them that they will build a bridge, even where there is no river” (concept by Nikita Khrushchev). They know that, to win any electoral contest, especially in a second round with two options, you have to go fishing for votes among that parishioner. The formula was not ignored by the extreme candidates who are vying for the presidency of Chile this Sunday. They went to the point of absurdity to show more restraint. It was a titanic effort for one who vindicates the Pinochet dictatorship and for the other, an ally of the Communist Party. Like all their country, they come from antipodes as great as those between the Atacama desert and the Patagonian jungle.
José Antonio Kast of the Republican Party, who won the first round of the November 21 elections, is an extreme right-wing Pinochet who does not give much thought to the murders committed during the 17-year dictatorship. He presents himself as the candidate of “law and order” in the style of Bolsonaro or the Filipino Duterte, and is waging a Trump-type culture war against feminists and LGBTQ + communities. His contender is Gabriel Boric, from the alliance between the Broad Front and the Communist Party, who just in recent days discovered the benefits of economic growth and wealth redistribution achieved by the center-left Concertación that governed 24 of the 30 years of democracy. Those who succeeded he called “heartless technocrats.” Also, he had proposed a general amnesty for those who committed serious crimes during the protests at the end of 2019, which he has now set aside. And he even had to do a pirouette in the air so as not to get stuck to a statement made by his communist allies congratulating the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, for his recent electoral farce.
Kast represents Chileans who they are afraid that the “stability” and economic growth obtained so far will be destroyed by the alternation in power of the center-left and the center-right. Boric is the standard-bearer for those who are angry. They are those who took to the streets to protest violently, those who feel crushed by the inheritance of the Pinochet dictatorship. Those who detest the old stagnant and clerical society that still holds power in many sectors. Both feelings are not exclusive to Chileans, with nuances, those expressions are reproduced almost everywhere in the world. The pandemic, the uncertainty, the economic standstill feed it.
This situation of polarity was reached after the resounding failure of all the forces of that center that had been ruling until now beyond that at times he leaned to one side and shortly after to the other, but never to the extreme. In the first round, the candidate of the until recently successful alliance of Socialists and Christian Democrats, ANDAsna Provoste, got 11.6% of the votes. Sebastián Sichel, of the coalition that governs with Sebastián Piñera, 12.7%. The two options were crushed by a large majority who consider that they are the main responsible for what happened in the last three decades and that despite the fact that they were renewed they do not find them capable of solving the underlying problems.
Everything seems to revolve around the reading that each sector made of the riots at the end of 2019 when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to ask for reforms to an unequal system. The moderate left forgot that it had ruled for more than two decadessy even made an over-acted piss. They said that the protests were due to the postponements of the transition without taking into account that at the same time they were tearing down the entire social structure that they had managed to put together. They forgot about the middle class whose income tripled during those years, and the loans and mortgages that allowed them to buy a car or a house for 30 years. Also that they were able to send their children to university despite the fact that the educational system is still paid. That does not mean that That same system left many Chileans over-indebted, without access to quality health services and with meager retirement prospects, but it was coming down very low and the country achieved undeniable progress. Denying it, as much of the center-left did, was not only historically inaccurate, but also politically suicidal. It makes little logic to say that one is the cause of the problems that affect the population, and then offer to solve them”Wrote for the Project Syndicate Andrés Velazco, former Chilean Finance Minister and current Dean of the School of Public Policy at the London School of Economics.
Another element is that the center-left did not categorically condemn the violence unleashed by the mobilizations that left 34 dead and hundreds wounded. That made those who lost their jobs or could not go to work as a result of the serious disturbances after the large concentrations and the small merchants whose premises were burned, turn upside down in search of the lost order. The same happened in the Araucanía area, where groups that perceive themselves as Mapuche mixed among the descendants of the original peoples, committed a series of crimes. There, in that region, is where Kast got the most votes beyond the big cities. Ultimately, what led many to vote for the extreme right-winger was fear of nationalization of the AFJPs, the 170,000 million dollars that Chileans still have in private pension accounts.
The right wing that is in the government also handed over to Kast a large group of its voters with the economic mismanagement of the last two years marked by the pandemic and the lack of resolution to stop the advance of extremist groups in Araucanía. This greatly angered those nostalgic for the dictatorship who had “civilized” and integrated into the more democratic right. Of course, Kast did not shy away from overreacting in this context and went to visit former Brigadier Miguel Krasnoff, a torturer and murderer sentenced to 650 years for crimes against humanity in prison. Kast assured that “I do not believe all the things that are said about him.” He also said that, if Pinochet “were alive, he would vote for me.” The center-right had a very tepid attitude to these expressions.
Anyway, all this would seem to be somewhat superfluous considering that only 47.74% of those qualified to do so went to vote in the first round. More than half of the voters prefer to stay at home. They have no interest in what happens. They feel that none of the candidates represents them or excites them to the point of pulling them out of their chairs. “Neither one nor the other alternative has sufficient representation to sustain a legitimacy that allows to govern democratically”, explains Angela Erpel, political analyst at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
For years, Chile is unable to get even half of the nearly 15 million voters to the polls. It was 49.3% in the presidential elections of 2013 and 46.7% in those of 2017. Even with the great expectation that there was with the plebiscite for the Constitutional Convention of October 2020, which made foresee a massive participation despite the In the context of a pandemic, it only managed to summon 50.9%, a figure that fell to 41.5% in the election of conventionals in May 2021. “There is an imaginary in crisis that no longer holds, democracy has changed its gravitational centers and there are no electoral alternatives that have been able to read this change, since this has been written with other narratives ”, analyzes Erpel. “What many thought would be a triumph for the progressive and revolutionary sectors, for whom the social and constituent outburst were safe propaganda, in the end it was not such. Y This allowed the rise of the right that vindicates Pinochetism and that we believed was already marginalized”.
This is the context in which Chileans are going to vote today. All the polls ensure that Boric will ultimately be the winner. But we already know that voting intention measurement methods are failing around the world. Everything remains unpredictable, extreme, like the Chile of geography.