Nearly 10 years ago, a generation of university students occupied campuses for months in an attempt to change access to education for all. Fast forward to 2021, this same generation now possess the power to choose between two extreme agendas to reshape their country.
For months Gabriel Boric, a 35-year old former student leader allied with the Communist Party, was the front-runner in the presidential election. He along with many of the left-wing party pledged to overhaul the neoliberal economic model left behind by President Pinochet.
However, it now seems like José Antonio Kast, the far-right candidate has surged in the polls and threatens Boric’s dream. A champion of Pinochet’s dictatorship and his economic legacy, Kast would restore his social conservatism in national issues such as security and migration.
“Boric represents the demands that gave rise to the protests. But Kast represents what happened two years after, which is that people want peace, order and security,” says Roberto Izikson, the head of Cadem, a polling company.
Boric would put the presidential palace on the side of the protesters and their allies in the constitutional convention. The main objective of his agenda is to revert Pinochet’s economic model that has enabled economic growth at the cost of deeply entrenched inequalities.
“There are lots of things we want to change about the current model: the total privatisation of social rights, the triumph of individualism over cooperation, and a development model based on the extraction of natural resources,” says Boric.
He would thus give private providers a large role, forgive all student debt, abolish private pension funds and make public transport free and green. Children as young as 14 would be able to change their gender on documents; “at least” 1% of jobs in the public sector would be reserved for trans people; Boric would raise taxes by a massive eight percentage points of GDP in as few as six years.
The issue however lies in the media slamming Boric for his left-wing “unrealistic ideals” and its difficulty in implementing them into a deeply corrupt system. As a result, Boric himself has had to shift some of his policies to the centre, becoming more moderate than he would have intended. An example of this would be him no longer favouring an amnesty for illegal workers. This has caused tension within members of his own party, which has led his Communist allies to impede part of his agenda.
This is where Kast comes into the ring. His remedy for Chile’s severely corrupt regime surrounds the concepts of nationalism and proposals to slash tax regulations – a clear opposition to Boric’s movement. He proposes to dig ditches on Chile’s northern border to deter undocumented migrants and establish an agency modelled after the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also wishes to increase the government’s powers in states of emergency, echoing repertories of Pinochet’s regime.
Kast also opposes legalising same-sex marriage and wants to ban abortion completely, limiting females’ freedom of choice. Most of all, he opposes the unsettling changes that the protests of the past decade threaten to bring about. “We’re not going to transform anything radically,” his manifesto declares. But would his possible victory be a thorn in the side of the new constitution’s architects (triggered in particular by the October 2019 riots).
“These elections are the hardest to predict since the return to democracy,” says Carmen Le Foulon, the head of polling at the Centre of Public Studies, a think-tank.
At the time of writing, Kast has a narrow lead in the polls but having faltered on the third presidential debate by downplaying Pinochet’s crimes and opposing same-sex marriages, it looks like his charm over the public may well be deserting him. That gives new hope to Boric. A lot depends on the youth, the generation that has been most involved in the protests over this last decade. They are the most important factor which endorsed the rewriting of a long-standing constitution and based on their agenda, they are likely to favour Boric.
It remains to be seen if Boric can catch up in the polls but it will come down to a generation of voters to become change-makers in creating a ‘fairer Chile’.