Santiago Center, CCA Host Event to Analyze Chile’s Presidential Election

November 26, 2021

The Canadian Council for the Americas (CCA) in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers | Santiago hosted the panel “Chile's Presidential Election: 1st round - What's Next?” – the partners’ third such event to review Chilean elections and politics.

During the November 23 event, moderated by Ken Frankel, President of CCA, the speakers included Cristina Bitar, Senior Partner & President at consultancy Azerta, Pamela Figueroa, Professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Claudia Heiss (GSAS'03),Head of Political Science at Universidad de Chile’s Institute of Public Affairs, and Carmen Le Foulon (GSAS'14),Researcher & Public Opinion Coordinator at the thinktank Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP).

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.

"The result of this election, with an extremely divided congress in both chambers, will begin polarizing Chilean society. This polarization started in the political elites, but it will permeate society," said Heiss. That division was also reflected in the first-round presidential election.

"Boric has a social democratic program similar to the one proposed by the former Concertación with [defeated presidential candidate] Yasna Provoste. He can't be considered a radical leftist as Kast can be considered a far-right candidate," she added. "Kast is proposing to create an international alliance to persecute radical leftists, he has denied global warming, claimed that Chile should leave human rights and international organizations… He represents the heirs of Pinochet."

"The big news is that for the first time since the return of democracy, the Senate has now a 50-50 composition," noted Le Foulon, commenting that for the constitutional plebiscite of 2020, the socioeconomic bias decreased in terms of electoral participation, but returned for the presidential election.

In that light, voter participation in Chile was considered low, with only 47% of eligible people voting, “but we don't know what will happen in December [for the runoff election]. Because of the polarization, maybe people from the center, center-right and center-left will participate more," Figueroa said.

The situation makes for interesting times in Chilean politics in which anything can happen, noted Bitar. "In order to win the election, the two contenders will have to moderate their speeches and turn to the center. I think in Chile there is a center."