Start of Chile's presidential campaign

Santiago (AFP) –


The race opened in Chile Wednesday to replace President Sebastian Pinera after an eventful four-year term marked by massive protests over inequality that culminated in a campaign to rewrite the country's dictatorship-era constitution.

Seven candidates are in the running for elections on November 21, but opinion polls show about half of voters undecided -- the highest rate in decades.

With just two months to go, the top two candidates, one left and one center-right, have a mere 13 and 11 percent of voter intention, according to polls, while the third-placed contender comes in at six percent.

The campaign will officially start with a television debate Wednesday amid a "crisis of legitimacy and confidence" in Chile's political leadership, said analyst Pamela Figueroa of the University of Santiago.

In May, Chileans voted overwhelmingly for people not aligned to existing political parties in elections for a 155-member body to rewrite Chile's constitution.

Almost half of voters opted for independent candidates, most of them left-leaning, in what was interpreted as a rebuke for the country's ruling right and of traditional political parties more broadly.

It showed, Pinera said at the time, that his government and parties were not "attuned to the demands and aspirations of citizens."

- New constitution -

On November 21, some 14.7 million Chileans will be eligible to vote for Pinera's replacement, as well as 155 lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, and half of the Senate.

If needed a presidential runoff will take place on December 19.

With 13 percent, polls show leftist lawmaker Gabriel Boric, 35, in the lead for the Approve Dignity coalition which includes the Communist Party. He would be Chile's youngest-ever president.

Two points behind him is lawyer Sebastian Sichel, 44, of Pinera's center-right Chile Vamos (Let's Go Chile) alliance.

In third place with six percent is Yasna Provoste, a Christian Democrat and former head of the Senate who has backing from center left parties.

Four other candidates are polling even lower.

Pinera cannot run as Chile's constitution does not allow consecutive presidential terms.

The election comes after much upheaval starting in 2019 with protests -- the biggest since Chile's return to democracy 31 years ago -- that left several dozen dead.

A key demand was a new constitution to replace the existing one, which was enacted in 1980 at the height of dictator Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

It limits the role of the state and bolsters private enterprise and is blamed by many for a deep-rooted gulf between Chile's rich and poor.

Others hail it for the country's many decades of economic growth.

After the protests the government agreed to a referendum on rewriting the constitution.