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This post may refer to COVID-19

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Sick of the Status Quo, Chileans Head to the Polls

Sick of the Status Quo, Chileans Head to the Polls

The top contenders to lead Chile out of a turbulent era are a leftist 35-year-old former student activist and a 55-year-old far-right former congressman, presenting voters a stark choice.


Make Chile great again? Meet the far-right presidential candidate tempting voters from Chile's left and center

"This is the first time I will vote for a right-wing candidate. I consider myself a leftist, but today I am 100% sure I will go for José Antonio Kast," said Rodrigo Álvarez, a 48-old sociologist and public administrator, referring to Chile's far right presidential candidate, a long-time conservative politician and defender of former dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime.

"I want Chile to get back in order, the migrant crisis is out of control, we need more economic stability, and to stop the violence we´re still seeing two years after the social uprising. The only candidate who clearly says he will straighten things up is him," he adds.

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This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to elect their new president. Voters will pick one out of seven candidates; if none of them reaches the absolute majority there would be a runoff in December to choose between the top two runners.

This election comes two years after massive protests and riots shook the country in October 2019, with protesters demanding better pensions, better education, and the end of an economic system that they said favors the elite. The unrest led now-outgoing President Sebastián Piñera to agree to a plebiscite about the need to change the constitution inherited from the dictatorship -- a year later, Chileans overwhelmingly voted to draft a new constitution.

But Chile still hasn't regained the stability for which it was once known. Brutal clashes between protesters and security forces continue weekly in Santiago. Violence has also stricken parts of the country's south, where the government says drug traffickers took advantage of the state´s conflict with Indigenous communities to gain control.

Like many countries, Chile's economy also slowed during the pandemic, prompting Congress to approve successive withdrawals from private pension funds. The pension system is a legacy from the military regime and credited by many businesses and economists as the foundation of the country´s strong capital markets; others, however, define the private pension system as a symbol of inequality. The turmoil has had a negative impact on the financial system and increasing inflation.

Considering the 2019 political upheaval, Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old leftist congressman and former student leader has been widely perceived as the presidential candidate who better represents the country's social movement. He runs for a broad coalition that champions a welfare state model and that includes the Communist Party.

In the past few weeks, however, the situation has changed, reflecting increasing political polarization in Chile.