By Ella Lloyd | Political Editor
José Antonio Kast, the far-right Republican candidate has pushed ahead one point in a recent opinion poll ahead of the upcoming Chilean presidential election, though left wing former student leader Gabriel Boric remains ahead in other polls.
Cristóbal Bellolio, a political scientist at Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago has called the upcoming election “The most fluid election since the return to democracy”.
It’s also the first election since mass protests against inequality broke out in 2019. On the anniversary of the protests this year, thousands gathered in Santiago to reiterate calls for universal healthcare, better schooling and a more equal society.
However, there’s also been a growth of far-right anti-immigrant rhetoric. In September, anti-immigrant violence erupted in the city of Iquique. After a group of homeless Venezuelan immigrants including children were moved on by police, marchers threw their belongings onto a bonfire.
Kast has been capitalising on this sentiment, proposing digging ditches along the border to prevent migrants, as well as a police force to ‘actively seek’ illegal immigrants modelled after the US’s ICE. He has also made comments reminiscent of the former US President Donald Trump. In a visit to Colchane, a hotspot for migrant crossings on the border to Bolivia, he highlighted violent crimes committed by migrants.
Chile has seen a more than tripled rate of foreign-born citizens since 2014, as many Haitians and Venezuelans flee violence and poverty in their home countries.
Kast has been critical of political correctness and a perceived abandonment of Chilean identity, backing instead conservative values, free markets, and a monocultural European descendant Chile.
He has also positioned himself as a supporter of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, stating in the run up to the 2017 election that Pinochet would have voted for him had he still been alive.
However, in a 2020 referendum Chile’s electorate voted in a landslide decision to replace the Pinochet-era constitution, with a largely leftist cohort to re-write it. The move was considered a chance to write a new progressive chapter in Chile’s future.
Pinochet came to power in 1973 in a coup. By the end of the dictatorship in 1990, between 1200 and 3200 political enemies and critics had been executed as well as tens of thousands tortured.
However, some continue to support the neoliberal economic legacy of the regime and its constitution.
Earlier this year a councillor candidate for Kast’s party announced her support for Pinochet, and used his image, alongside one of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in a montage.
Chileans are divided on the precipice of an uncertain future. ‘Make Chile Great Again’ paraphernalia lined the streets during the 2020 referendum. A shift to the left was perceived when the old constitution was rejected by voters, and mostly left wingers were chosen to write a new one, however this recent poll may betray a growing far-right feeling amongst Chileans.
The election is scheduled for November 21, with the new president assuming office in March.Ella Lloyd Politics twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.