Chilean presidential candidates Gabriel Boric, Yasna Provoste, Sebastián Sichel, and José Antonio Kast

Clockwise from top left: Gabriel Boric, Yasna Provoste, José Antonio Kast, and Sebastián Sichel. (Images from candidates' social media pages)

Explainer: Who's Who in Chile's 2021 Presidential Race

By Holly K. Sonneland and Hope Wilkinson

Ahead of the November 21 first round, AS/COA Online profiles the backgrounds and platforms of Gabriel Boric and Yasna Provoste on the left, and Sebastián Sichel and José Antonio Kast on the right.

Chilean voters voiced two notable preferences in July’s primaries: youth and political moderatism. In July 18 primaries, Gabriel Boric and Sebastián Sichel beat out competitors who were older and farther to the left and right, respectively. When the March 2022 inauguration rolls around, polling frontrunner Boric would become Chile’s youngest president ever at 36 years old. Sichel, at 44 years, would be the youngest in 170 years. Presidents in Chile serve four-year terms.

Chileans vote in general elections on November 21. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two will face each other in a December 19 runoff. There are seven official candidates in the 2021 presidential race. We profile the top four, each of whom has garnered 10 percent or more in at least two major polls since August.

Gabriel Boric

Approve Dignity coalition

Though polls put Daniel Jadue in the lead for the Approve Dignity primary, Boric easily bested the Recoleta mayor and Communist Party member by double digits.

Boric first rose to prominence as a leader of Chile’s 2011 student protests, a movement that sought free university tuition and drew attention to inequality in Chilean higher education. In 2013, he was elected as an independent to represent the Magallanes and Antarctic regions in Chile’s lower house of Congress as the only candidate outside of the then-two-party system. He was reelected in 2017 and is now a member of the progressive Social Convergence Party within the Broad Front bloc in Congress.

Hailing from Chile’s Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego, Boric is an advocate for government decentralization and the environment. He proposes overhauling Chile’s pension system and scrapping the current system of private fund administrators, known as AFPs, as well as introducing a progressive tax reform that would increase corporate taxes. His platform also is pitching police reform, an expansion of social services like universal health insurance, and environmentally friendly economic solutions. Though he is considered to be further to the left than competitor Yasna Provoste, Boric has a history of negotiating across the aisle in Congress and bucked his own party’s legislators in November 2019 to sign an agreement with conservatives to kick off the process of Chile’s constitutional rewrite. Unlike some politicians identified as leftists in the region, he’s not been shy about criticizing Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega for being autocratic.

José Antonio Kast

Republican Party

Polling at around 10 percent and with nominal upward momentum in September surveys, Kast’s CV includes a law degree from and academic work at the Catholic University of Chile and time as a city councilman and later representative in Congress for the city of Buin. He came in fourth in the 2017 presidential election with 7.9 percent of the vote. Some of his most prominent proposals include strong support for security forces, particularly following the 2019 social protests, and stricter immigration policies. Kast, 55, opposed the movement to rewrite the Constitution. On the political spectrum, he falls farther to the right than Sichel and has gone as far as defending the Pinochet dictatorship by saying that on the day of the 1973 coup, Chileans “chose liberty.”

Yasna Provoste

New Social Pact coalition

The only woman and person of indigenous heritage running for president in this cycle, Senate President Provoste is wedged in a tight spot, battling with Boric for the left’s vote and with her former party-mate Sichel for the center. A lifelong Christian Democrat, she beat out two other candidates to win the center-left’s August primary with 60 percent of the vote. She’s generally holding steady in third in polls behind Sichel and ahead of Kast.

Once a physical education teacher, Provoste, 51, got her start in regional politics in the late 1990s. In 2004, she jumped to the national government, serving for two years as planning minister in the Ricardo Lagos administration and later as President Michelle Bachelet’s education minister. She became a deputy in 2014, a senator in 2018, and then the president of the upper house in 2021.

Rather than the overhaul pledged by Boric, Provoste proposes instead to reform the current pension system. In contrast to Sichel’s proposals to expand state security forces, she plans “profound reforms“ for the national police force, known as the carabineros, who came under scrutiny for alleged abuses during the 2019 protests.

Sebastián Sichel

Let’s Go Chile coalition

Sichel, 43, is an independent candidate running on the governing coalition’s ticket who has yet to hold elected office. After two years as a subdirector in the state tourism promotion agency during the Bachelet administration, he ran twice unsuccessfully for Congress as a member of the Christian Democratic party in 2009 and 2013. Two years later, he joined the Citizen Party steered by former Bachelet cabinet member Andrés Velasco but then backed Sebastián Piñera in the 2017 runoff. Piñera, in turn, named Sichel as a vice president for the state trade promotion agency in 2018 before making him his social development minister the following year and then president of the public bank in 2020. In between his public roles, he worked in the private sector as an executive for various communications firms.

In contrast to Piñera, Sichel supported the vote to rewrite the Constitution. He won the July 18 Let’s Go Chile primary with 49 percent of the vote, placing him 18 points ahead of his closest competitor.

As president, Sichel proposes to make the government more efficient by, among other things, folding a third of the current 24 ministries into others, while adding two: an interior security ministry that would fight crime and drug trafficking, as well as a ministry that would focus on improving public administration. He supports free market economic policies and also progressive social policies, such as same-sex marriage and adoption. Though polling behind Boric, Sichel has the support of groups within the Chilean right-wing political establishment. Sichel, who grew up in a relatively unstable and impoverished home, also promises support for childhood food programs, housing, and mental health services.

The congressional context

Chileans will also vote for all 155 deputies in the lower house and half of the 50 Senate seats in November. Deputies serve four-year terms and can be reelected twice, while senators serve eight and can win reelection once.

Although the governing coalition, Let’s Go Chile, holds slim majorities in both houses in the current legislative session, its bloc suffered a setback in May when it failed to secure a third of seats in the Constituent Assembly that is currently debating and drafting a new Constitution. Though some polls show Sichel’s Let’s Go Chile’s support on par with Boric’s Broad Front in Congress, others indicate that voters identify with the left-wing blocs in greater numbers.

Pia Fuentealba contributed to this article.