Voters in Chile could soon elect a far-right presidential candidate, and the candidate she hopes will beat her in the race, Sebastian Pinera, is himself a former rightwing president.
Pinera is almost certain to win the first round of the race and hope to win the second one in June. But Sebastián Piñera, another centrist, is running even against Pinera, with as many as 20% of potential votes undecided. As every Chilean presidential poll has shown in recent years, the temptation is to vote for the best known and most visited figure on the country’s TV screens. But on Sunday, after four and a half hours of debates between the three candidates, it emerged that what, after all, is the best policy?
Pinera and his close allies have succeeded in reintroducing the label of extreme-right to the Chilean name. Prior to Pinera, the term had almost always been used to describe a party founded on fascistic elements, which Chileans deemed “very extreme” and “incompatible with democracy”. The rightwing parties and their supporters have remained entrenched in the far-right as it had historically been associated with the country’s extreme-left movement.
The opposition to Pinera’s rightwing-slash-populist politicians are well documented. In 2011, the far-right Pinochet has murdered more than 3,000 opponents, including minors, since the end of his dictatorship in 1990. If Pinera wins, he has been committed to strengthening already existing laws against “revenge killings” and will present an anti-homicide bill to Congress in May. To replace Congresswoman Carmen Léber, who won a Nobel peace prize for her work to end the Pinochet era, Pinera said on Sunday that he would propose a law against “disappearances”. Piñera has also been at the helm of the Law Against Extortion in Chile.
But Pinera and his allies’ efforts to turn Chile into a country dominated by a few names in their name does not solve the problem. It only makes it more difficult for voters, in search of a leader who they can trust. Yet most of the leftwing candidates are all against all the policies that Pinera is proposing – they would work towards re-establishing a more normal democracy in Chile.
No one expects any of the candidates to have it in their minds to be the first victim of populism. But it is possible that far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who rose to fame in Brazil on the back of his rise to popularity in white supremacy, could take his electoral heat from another step toward the populist extreme.