Chile’s Kast jumps to early lead in election, second-round likely – Reuters Canada

SANTIAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Jose Antonio Kast, a right-wing former congressman who has promised a harsh crackdown on crime, jumped to an early lead on Sunday evening in Chile’s most divisive presidential election since the country’s 1990 return to democracy.

With 10.89% of the vote counted, Kast had received 29.3% of ballots versus 23.61% for leftist Gabriel Boric, his main opponent. If that trend held it would mean the two candidates would head for a second-round run-off in December.

Long lines developed at many polling stations amid coronavirus-related social distancing protocols and relatively high turnout. Many polls remained open past the expected closing time of 6 p.m. in order to accommodate voters, many of whom had been waiting for more than two hours in nearly 90 Fahrenheit (31 Celsius) heat.

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Kast, a 55-year-old Catholic and father of nine, has praised the neo-liberal “economic legacy” of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

His frank talk, across-the-board conservatism and sometimes-idiosyncratic policy ideas, such as digging a ditch to curb illegal immigration, have drawn frequent comparisons with former U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

On the Left, Boric, a 35-year-old lawmaker who led student protests in 2011 demanding improvements to Chile’s education system, has pledged to scrap the nation’s laissez-faire economic model, while strengthening environmental protections and indigenous rights. Broadly speaking, he represents a significant rupture from the conservative to centrist policies that have dominated Chilean politics for decades.

“For me, the most important thing is that we establish a country where people have rights,” said 54-year-old lawyer Romario Deluca, while waiting in line to vote for Boric in central Santiago.

“Personal rights, housing, healthcare, no matter your income.”

The election comes after two years of dramatic, sometimes-violent protests by Chileans demanding quality-of-life improvements. The demonstrations helped bring about an ongoing rewrite of the nation’s Pinochet-era constitution and propelled the candidacy of Boric, who for much of the race held a comfortable lead.

But increasing fatigue among Chileans fed up with political violence, combined with a widespread perception that crime is on the rise, has boosted Kast.

Most polls have Kast winning the most votes on Sunday by a few percentage points, while a likely runoff in December would be extremely competitive.

“He’s going to defeat narco-trafficking, which is doing so much damage to our country,” Gloria Reyes Flores, a 66-year-old widower in the upscale Santiago district of Las Condes, said of the right-wing candidate. “He’s also going to control immigration because there are a lot of immigrants who are coming to do harm to Chile.”

One wild card will be the performance of the more moderate candidates. Center-right Sebastian Sichel and center-left Yasna Provoste are both polling between 10% and 15%, at least 10 percentage points back from Kast and Boric. But pollsters say a surprise is still possible given that millions of voters remain undecided.

Barring a shock result, Kast and Boric will be scrambling to pick up Sichel and Provoste voters in a second round scheduled for Dec. 19, making the more moderate contenders potential kingmakers.

If either of the two leading candidates manages to clear 2 million votes, said Kenneth Bunker, director of political consultancy Tresquintos, it could be a good indicator that they have broadened their base sufficiently to win in an eventual second round.

Also up for grabs are all 155 seats in Chile’s lower house, 27 of the 50 seats in the country’s upper house and all positions in the nation’s 16 regional councils.

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Reporting by Gram Slattery and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda; Editing by Sandra Maler, Kirsten Donovan and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Chile’s Kast jumps to early lead in election, second-round likely – Reuters Canada

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