SANTIAGO: Chileans began voting Sunday in their fourth election in 18 months, this time to choose a new president among seven candidates, with the winner overseeing the drafting of the country's first post-dictatorship constitution. The election marks the most wide open contest since the 1990s, and may well buck Chile's traditional political cycle, with the two favorites not among the established coalitions that have governed for the past three decades.
Following a campaign scarred by two years of intense social protests, outgoing President Sebastian Pinera was the first public figure to cast his ballot, at a school in the affluent Santiago neighborhood of Las Condes.
"All opinions matter. Come and vote," he said before television cameras. "We are capable of resolving our differences in a peaceful way, by voting."
The poll comes with many Chileans in revolt against deep-rooted inequality, and it follows recent elections for a body that will write the new constitution -- a key demand of the protesters.
That ballot, in May, saw voters massively reject traditional political parties in charge since democracy replaced the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet 31 years ago. On Sunday, seven hopefuls vie to replace the unpopular Pinera, covering the entire political spectrum.
The favorites are Gabriel Boric, 35, of the leftist Approve Dignity alliance which includes the Communist Party, and far right candidate Jose Antonio Kast, 55, of the Republican Party -- each with about a quarter of stated voter intention. Both are from minority parties not in government.
Centrists, including the candidate from Pinera's party, proved the least popular in opinion polls that also revealed half of the 15 million eligible voters to be undecided.
"I'm going to vote but I am pretty disappointed," said Danilo Panes. The 26-year-old took part in 2019 protests and feels none of the candidates have put forward "alternatives in line with what the people demanded" when they took to the streets.
The demonstrators denounced 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. - AFP