By Anthony Esposito and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chileans go to the polls on Sunday to vote in the Andean nation’s most divisive presidential election in decades. Two candidates have completely different visions of the future, from pensions and privatization to human rights.
On one side, there is Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old former student protest leader who promises social change and is ahead of the polls before the elections, against the ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast, 55, a lawyer who supports a tough one won law-and-order line.
“Two models for the nation face each other,” wrote Kast in a letter published on Saturday in the local newspaper El Mercurio, citing Boric’s plans for a “total transformation” and his own promised “change with order and stability”.
Both candidates come from outside the centrist political mainstream that has largely ruled Chile since its return to democracy in 1990 after the dark years of the military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, the spirit of which is still in the foreground.
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Both candidates received less than 30 percent of the vote in a fragmented first ballot in November and have been fighting hard for the sometimes skeptical moderate voters in the copper-rich country with around 19 million inhabitants.
“It’s not that I’m 100% with Boric, but now it’s time to decide between two opposing options and Boric is my choice,” said Javier Morales, 29, a construction worker who posted this week attended Boric’s closing event.
Boric supporters say he will revise the country’s market-oriented economic model that dates back to Pinochet. It is credited with fueling economic growth but attacked for creating sharp gaps between rich and poor.
Kast, meanwhile, has defended Pinochet’s legacy and barbed Boric for his alliance with the Communist Party in his broad left coalition, which has resonated with supporters.
“I think Chile needs a bit of order,” says Florencia Vergara, 25, a dentistry student who Kast supports as a “lesser evil” for the economy. “I like his suggestions on economic issues, although I disagree with all of his political ideals.”
Boric, who led a 2011 student protest to demand better and more affordable education, wrote in an open letter that his government will make the changes Chileans have called for in the widespread social uprising in 2019.
“(That means) having a real social security system that doesn’t leave people behind, bridges the hateful gap between health care for the rich and health care for the poor, and unhesitatingly promotes women’s freedoms and rights,” he said.
The protests of 2019, which lasted for months and turned violent at times, sparked a formal process to recast the decade-old Chilean constitution, a text that will be subject to a referendum next year.
The final polls ahead of the runoff show that Boric is expanding his lead over Kast, although most polls show a close race.
54-year-old businessman Jorge Valdivia, a supporter of Boric, said the vote was an opportunity for the country to close a chapter on the past and move on to a more inclusive economic and social system.
“We can close the dark, harmful and abusive model that benefited a small minority. We have the opportunity to open things up to the future for the benefit of our children, ”he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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