Far-right candidate Jose Antonio Kast takes lead in Chile’s presidential elections

Far-right fiscal conservative José Antonio Kast and left-wing former student activist Gabriel Boric will run in the second round for the Chilean presidency next month, two years after anti-inequality protests that set the country on the path to constitutional change.

Kast, 55, and Boric, 35, took a convincing lead over five rivals in a first voting round Sunday to pass to the runoff on December 19.

According to a near-complete count, Kast”s far-right Republican Party took almost 28 per cent of the vote, followed closely by Boric’s Apruebo Dignidad or “I Approve Dignity” alliance with more than 25 per cent.

The next closest candidate managed less than 13 per cent.

In an address to jubilant supporters, Kast vowed to restore “peace, order, progress and freedom” in response to what he said was a clear call “from a majority of Chileans”.

“Long live Chile! We are going to work to restore peace, order, progress, and our freedom. Starting today, every woman who cannot go home in peace because of crime and harassment has hope of living in peace,” Kast said.

Kast, an open admirer of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, has been dubbed “Chile’s Bolsonaro” by the local press due to his populist and conservative policies reminiscent of those of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro. His campaign has been based on public security, migration, and Christian values.

Boric, for his part, vowed to work for “unity”, telling supporters “we did not take to the streets for everything to remain the same”.

Offering a completely different agenda to voters, his economic plan is centred on expanding the welfare state.

The election has proven to show a divide among Chileans. Chile’s current president, Sebastián Piñera, asked the candidates “to seek the path of responsibility and not of populism, the path of truth and not of polarisation.”

Sunday’s poll came two years after dozens of people died during weeks of demonstrations against low salaries and pensions, poor public health care and education, and in the words of a recent OECD report, “persistently high inequality” between rich and poor.

The protesters demanded a new constitution.

The government finally agreed to a referendum, which one year later gave the go-ahead for a new founding law for Chile to be drawn up by an elected body.

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