Experts Review Outcome of Chile’s Presidential Election

November 30, 2021

The day after Chile's first round 2021 presidential election, Columbia's Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) and Columbia Global Centers | Santiago hosted a webinar to analyze how the results will impact the future political scenario, and its implications for political representation and social discontent.

The webinar, “The Impact of the 2021 Presidential Election on Chile’s Future,” was presented by the panelists Kenneth Bunker, executive director of political analysis firm Tresquintos; Loreto Cox, assistant professor at Universidad Católica’s School of Government; and Juan Pablo Luna, associate professor at Universidad Católica’s School of Government and Political Science Institute. The event was chaired by Vicky Murillo, ILAS director.

In the election, the two front runners will head to a run-off election: right-wing candidate José Antonio Kast of the Frente Social Cristiano, who won 27.9% of the vote, and left-wing candidate Gabriel Boric of Apruebo Dignidad won 25.8% of the vote. In a surprise result, independent candidate Franco Parisi garnered 12.8% of the vote.

"Boric is young [at 35 years old] and Kast represents a very young party. Parisi is a candidate with a very unclear ideological position, who criticizes the parties," said Cox. "We’ve observed a high dissatisfaction with the functioning of the political system. According to the latest survey from [thinktank] CEP, political institutions have extremely low levels of trust." She added that there is a growing fragmentation in the electorate that brings a very high level of uncertainty to the runoff election, “because we don't really know where Parisi's votes are going to go."

The three observers agreed that for those who voted for Parisi, there is no clarity regarding whom they will back for the runoff election.

"The voter for Parisi really supports Parisi. I don’t want to say that it is a sect but it is a group that’s very loyal to the candidate. They already said they were going to vote to see what they would do in the runoff," Bunker noted. "Kast has a smaller electorate. It is correct to describe him as a candidate of the extreme right, but he is more able to move a bit to the center," he added.

According to Luna, the center-left was a bit too complacent with its overwhelming win in October 2020, when, in response to intense social protests that began one year earlier, 78% of voters decided that the country’s constitution should be rewritten.

“A lot has happened since the approval - inflation, migration, pandemic - and people believe that these changes need a certain order. There was an overinterpretation regarding this change. People still want them, but more moderate and gradual than those perceived in the elites, both on the left and on the right," said Luna. “The focus on order displaced hope and joy… Boric tried to promise orderly changes, but was never able to communicate it," he added.

The runoff election will take place on Sunday, December 19. The Santiago Center and ILAS will hold another webinar to review those results on December 20 at 5:00 PM Santiago time (3:00 PM NY).