The far-right presidential candidate seducing voters from Chile’s left and center

Elías Badillo, 48, is on the ballot in a country where conservatives have garnered 39% of the vote in seven national elections since 2000

The far-right presidential candidate seducing voters from Chile’s left and center

A powerful Latino nationalist advocate for limited democracy has won only 18% of the vote in the first round of Chile’s presidential elections on 18 June, according to a partial survey from Equipo, a leftist polling firm.

The astonishing result is the highest by a far-right candidate since 1994, when a 36-year-old protégé of the genocidal general Augusto Pinochet shockingly got 30% of the vote.

Far-right politician Elías Badillo, whose ascent has been accompanied by ads depicting himself at a white supremacist rally, is likely to get only about 7% of the vote in the second round on 3 November. Yet the winner will have strong power to reform Chile’s notoriously corrupt constitution, change or rewrite labor laws, and tinker with the country’s social program.

“I am not surprised,” José Adán Chavarro, a lawyer who supports the leftwing coalition that will be joined by the independent candidate Alejandro Guillier in the runoff, told the Guardian. “It’s the natural consequence of the polarization in society.”

“For me, democracy is to have consensus and a common country,” Chavarro said.

A 54-year-old homemaker and leftist Chavista candidate, Avril Pèrez, told the Guardian that her party and progressives in general needed to fight harder to win her vote from the far right.

“I am a modern leftist and the far right is unacceptable for me,” she said. “There has been a profound split in the country and a degeneration of values.”

The modest result signals the difficulty faced by progressives in winning their own votes from the right, at a time when conservatives have gathered 39% of the vote in seven national elections since 2000.

The candidacy of Père Badillo in particular is drawing comparison to the intramural chasms on the far right in Germany in 1932.

A member of Chile’s evangelical community with the surname Badillo, he campaigned primarily on promises to reinstate restrictions on abortion and reinforce border security. His idiosyncratic views have included a ban on yellow jackets – union garb usually worn by the country’s poor – to make the streets safe for motorcyclists.

“I would like to offer concrete solutions to the concerns of the poor, mothers, the working class,” he told Esquire magazine. “It is what I have done my whole life.”

Badillo’s astonishing 8% of the vote in the first round of elections represents a powerful repudiation of the incumbent, Sebastian Pinera, who has governed since 2010 and is likely to run for a second consecutive term in the runoff.

Its strong showing puts the possibility of changing Chile’s constitution and rewriting labor laws into stark relief.

“Given the results of this election, there are two probable scenarios,” Marina Silva, the senator and former Pinera favorite who was eliminated in the first round of elections, told the Guardian. “There is a strong institutional and political legacy that’s no longer a source of optimism, and there is an active desire to radically change Chile’s constitution.”

Her second, perhaps more real, fear is that the right’s stranglehold on Chilean politics will be facilitated by a stable environment of impotence in the two months before the runoff.

While no candidate has been able to sustain big leads, it has been the year of the outsider. Pérez, the wife of former president Michelle Bachelet, has consistently polled well in the low 20s.

And a packed field, filled with unknowns, several of whom arrived in Chile with only three months of government experience, has caused the election process to shift into this new, and unpredictable, phase of the race.

“It is important that in these two months, Chile’s political debates begin to take on meaning, because this is a moment that has been largely dominated by unprecedented noise, which has diminished political discourse,” Silva said.

“We have to be sure that we respect this moment and not use it to crush each other.”

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