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Why Has Chile Embraced the Extremes?

Many Chileans are frightened, and others are angry – not least because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic squeeze. But the political failures of the center-left also help to explain why the far right and the far left will contest the second round of the country’s presidential election.

LONDON – When candidates from the far right and the far left advance to the second round of a presidential election, one is tempted to quote William Butler Yeats’s famous line, “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” But to understand Chile’s current presidential contest, Vladimir Lenin, who called left-wing communism “an infantile disorder,” is a better guide.

After the massive protests of late 2019, and the election six months ago of a convention full of unconventional delegates to write a new constitution, many thought Chile had shifted left. But José Antonio Kast, who won the first round of the presidential election on November 21, is a hard rightist who downplays the torture and murders committed during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, promises to take a hard line against criminals and drug dealers, and wages a Trumpian cultural war against feminists and LGBTQ+ communities.

What happened? The short answer is that many Chileans are frightened, and others are angry. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic squeeze contributed to such sentiments. But so did the antics of the left.

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