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Chile leftist Boric widens leads in polarized presidential election

GlobalDec 20, 2021 09:37
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5/5 © Reuters. Electoral officials count votes for the presidential election, in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza 2/5

By Anthony Esposito and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO (Reuters) -Chilean leftist candidate Gabriel Boric is leading the country's presidential runoff with 54.72% of the vote, and appeared to be widening his lead over far-right rival Jose Antonio Kast at 45.28%, results showed on Sunday with half of ballots tallied.

Chileans headed to the polls on Sunday to vote in the Andean nation's most divisive presidential election in decades, with the two candidates offering starkly different visions from pensions and privatization to human rights.

Voters are choosing between Gabriel Boric https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/student-leader-president-chiles-boric-eyes-historic-election-win-2021-12-15, a 35-year-old former student protest leader allied to the Communist Party, and ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/chiles-bolsonaro-hard-right-kast-rises-with-frank-talk-crime-focus-2021-11-16, 55, a law-and-order candidate and defender of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

"I want real change," said Lucrecia Cornejo, 72, a seamstress waiting in line to vote for Boric, the candidate for a broad leftist front. She cited inequalities in education, pensions and healthcare that Boric has pledged to fix.

"I want equality, for us not to be as they call us the 'broken ones,' more fairness in education, health and salaries."

Kast, who has been likened to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and who has become a hero to Chile's "unapologetic right," said in an open letter on Saturday that "two models for the nation are going face-to-face". He offered "change with order and stability."

Both candidates come from outside the centrist political mainstream that has largely ruled since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 following the years of Pinochet's military dictatorship.

The final opinion polls https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/final-chile-presidential-polls-show-leftist-boric-edging-ahead-2021-12-18 ahead of the runoff showed Boric widening his lead against Kast in a still close race. Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (2100 GMT).

Both candidates got under 30% of the vote in a fragmented first-round vote in November and have been battling since then to win over sometimes skeptical moderate voters in Chile, which is the world's largest copper producer and has a population of some 19 million.

"It is not that I am 100% with Boric, but now it is time to decide between two opposing options and Boric is my choice," said Javier Morales, 29, a construction worker.

Florencia Vergara, 25, a dentistry student, was supporting Kast as the "lesser evil" for the economy. "I like his proposals on economic issues, although I don't agree with all his political ideals," she said. "But Chile needs a bit of order."

GHOST OF PINOCHET

Boric supporters say he will overhaul the country's market-oriented economic model that dates back to Pinochet. It has been credited for driving economic growth, but attacked for creating sharp divides between rich and poor.

Kast has defended Pinochet's legacy and aimed barbs at Boric for his alliance with the Communist Party in his leftist coalition, which has resonated with supporters https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/the-coup-destroyed-us-memories-pinochet-resonate-chiles-crossroads-election-2021-12-17. Some Kast voters shouted that Chile would "never be Marxist" on Sunday.

"I support Jose Antonio Kast because he is a just man," Marisol Araneda, 49, a merchant selling fruits and vegetables, said on Sunday as she headed to vote, adding she feared Boric would take the country in the direction of socialist Venezuela.

Boric, who rose to prominence leading a student protest in 2011 to demand better and more affordable education, wrote in an open letter that his government would make the changes Chileans had demanded in widespread social uprisings in 2019.

"(That means) having a real social security system that doesn't leave people behind, ending the hateful gap between healthcare for the rich and healthcare for the poor, advancing without hesitation in freedoms and rights for women," he said.

The 2019 protests, which lasted months and at times turned violent, sparked a formal process to redraft Chile's decades-old constitution, a text that will face a referendum next year.

Businessman Jorge Valdivia, 54, a Boric supporter, said the vote was a chance for the country to close a chapter on the past.

"We can close the dark, damaging and abusive model that benefited a small minority," he said.

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EXPLAINER-'Communism vs fascism?' Chile braces for polarized presidential run-off

ANALYSIS-In Chile's polarized election, stark divides offer investors a silver lining

FACTBOX-Chile's presidential candidates on mining, pensions and LGBT rights

Boric vs Kast https://tmsnrt.rs/3ytn6VG

Boric vs Kast (Interactive version) https://tmsnrt.rs/3m9CzVO

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Chile leftist Boric widens leads in polarized presidential election
 

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