After years of drifting left, Chilean voters are turning right

SANTIAGO, Nov.22 (Reuters) – After years of street protests and the election of a mostly left-wing body to rewrite the constitution, Chileans surprised analysts, markets and even themselves on Sunday night by favoring a right-wing presidential candidate and delivering significant gains for conservatives in Congress.

With 99.99% of the votes cast on Monday, former ultra-conservative congressman José Antonio Kast won 27.91%, and left-wing lawmaker Gabriel Boric came in second, with 25.83%. As both have fallen well below the 50% threshold needed for victory, they will now move on to a second round on December 19.

Kast, who is committed to tackling crime and illegal immigration, appears to be on the rise, although Boric could still score a victory if he wins enough centrists, analysts said.

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Still, the results of the congressional election may make the radical changes to Chile’s free market model that Boric promised elusive. The left and center-left coalitions have lost ground in the upper and lower houses, and no coalition is expected to emerge with a functional majority.

“It’s going to be very difficult for one of the two main Senate coalitions to pass legislation,” said Kenneth Bunker, director of the Tresquintos policy council.

“For the conservative sectors this is not a problem because they are in favor of the status quo, but for the opposition it is very bad news.”

Barely six months ago, the Chileans favored left-wing independents when selecting representatives for the body responsible for rewriting the country’s constitution during the dictatorship. Boric, a 35-year-old man who rose to fame by leading student protests, has supported the constitutional rewrite.

But fears of crime, ongoing clashes between police and indigenous separatist groups in the south of the country, and fatigue from ongoing protests and unrest in what is traditionally one of America’s most stable countries. Latin probably played a role in the shift to the right, analysts said.

“What is happening in the south, combined with crime and the general idea of ​​change without really knowing what changes will be made, has made a significant part of the population turn against Boric,” said Miguel Angel Lopez, professor at the University of Chile.

While some recent opinion polls had shown Kast to be gaining ground, many Chileans and political observers did not expect him to do as well as him, given the country’s left turn in recent years.

“It seems sad to me, sad after everything that has happened to the country,” Salvador Carrasco, a musician from the center of Santiago, said Monday morning.

Chile’s IPSA stock benchmark (.SPIPSA) rose more than 10%, as the country’s peso gained ground against the dollar overnight.

The peso rally was due to relief that Congress was divided, which will act as a moderating force if Boric wins, said Mary-Therese Barton, head of emerging debt at Pictet Asset Management.

“The first reaction from the markets has certainly been positive. It has less to do with the presidential side and more to do with Congress,” she said.

In the second round of the presidential election, all eyes will now be on the success of the two candidates in winning voters outside their traditional bases of support. Five defeated candidates alone collected some 46% of the votes which are now up for grabs.

Perhaps the biggest mystery will be how those who voted for libertarian economist Franco Parisi will vote. Parisi, who lives in Alabama and has never set foot in Chile during the campaign, surprised more than one by finishing third with 12.8% of the vote.

“The Parisian voter is neither on the left nor on the right,” said Guillermo Holzmann, professor at the University of Valparaiso.

“It’s a vote that will require a lot of analysis.”

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Reporting by Gram Slattery, Natalia A. Ramos Miranda and Fabian Cambero, Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Editing by William Maclean and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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