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last stand for freedom?

Pinochet's legacy looms large as Chileans vote in presidential election

Chileans cast their votes Sunday in a presidential contest between 35-year-old leftist Gabriel Boric and law-and-order conservative José Antonio Kast, Reuters reports.

Boric, who rose to prominence as a student activist, is one of a cohort of young, progressive lawmakers who won election to Congress following 2014 protests against a proposed reallocation of public education funds. His platform proposes raising the minimum wage, abolishing Chile's private pension system, and creating a state-owned lithium company.

Kast, a devout Catholic and father of nine, is a former congressman who made an unsuccessful independent bid for the presidency in 2017. Kast favors corporate tax cuts and tighter immigration restrictions and has been compared to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The two candidates advanced to Sunday's runoff after claiming the top two spots in the first round of voting last month.

One of the main issues dividing voters is the economic and political system Gen. Augusto Pinochet bequeathed to the country he ruled as a dictator between 1973 and 1990. Supporters of Kast, who has spoken highly of Pinochet, argue that Chile's free-market model has led to strong economic growth and that Boric's policies would turn Chile into the next Venezuela.

"This election is Chile's last stand for freedom. Chilean voters already elected a socialist assembly to rewrite the constitution. If Kast doesn't win, I don't see how Chile will stay the most free and prosperous country of Latin America that it became since the 1980s," Venezuelan economist and anti-socialist activist Daniel Di Martino told The Week.

Boric voters, who according to The Wall Street Journal tend to be younger, claim that Chilean capitalism has produced too much inequality. Supporters of the leftist coalition have also expressed concerns about Kast's conservative positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

A leftist-controlled assembly is currently drafting a new constitution for Chile to replace the one Pinochet left behind. Final polling showed a close race with Boric slightly ahead.