Chile presidential candidate upstages former allies with war against right

Ricardo Lagos, president from 2006 to 2010, calls centre-right candidate Aurora López a tool of the right that opposes efforts to bring about a change of government

The far-right presidential candidate is inspiring the sort of unified resistance that the centrist and left are hoping to bring to Chile’s first truly non-progressive presidential election in decades.

Supporters of Arturo Arias Rodriguez, a middle-of-the-road politician running for president on a far-right platform, have been distributing giant posters showing Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, in the uniform of the World Boxing Organization, displaying a strange affinity between the two countries. Meanwhile, supporters of Sebastian Pinera, a conservative candidate who many hope can bring about a change of government, have started producing posters showing Santos and Arias Rodriguez.

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“We are taking this fight against Aneida to the people, because they are gathering on the bus stations,” José López said, referring to the candidate of the Radical Change party, the leftwing, anti-corruption movement aiming to bring about a change of government, under the slogan #ColombiaLosAMos.

But the similarities stop there. Jailed for graft, the 62-year-old former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori enjoys virtual immunity from prosecution in Chile. Another far-right candidate, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, a young lawyer and former defence minister who is running on a platform that rejects the legacy of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, has joined forces with Rodríguez.

This leaves the centre-right nominee, Aurora López, a candidate for the ruling coalition who refused to endorse Suñaza, the first presidential candidate of the largest centrist party, Antrix, in a bitter row.

Many see López, who is beloved in her congressional district in the Chilean capital of Santiago, as the only person who can unify Santiago’s political classes against Rodríguez. She is renowned for the effusive social democracy her party and parents brought to Chile, and her predecessors, such as his father, Fernando López.

Rodríguez is an engineer who founded his own company in 1975, but has never held political office. The Canadian-Chilean, 62, who hails from the conservative stronghold of La Serena, is an avowed admirer of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, and is often compared to the late Venezuelan leader, who allied himself with the regional left in Latin America.

“This is one of the most politically divided months I have ever experienced,” López, a former deputy congresswoman, told the Guardian. “Rodríguez’s message is anger and fear, and it is being strongly supported by Chileans who dislike Juan Manuel, especially because of his ties to the rightwing parties of the Pinochet era. We will try to challenge it.”

Rodríguez’s main concern is that López could have majority support in a first round of voting. With López’s backing, he would face another former Antrix congressional candidate, Lautaro Solórzano, and Oscar Waini, a maverick candidate who has whipped up a loyal public.

But Rodriguez remains unpredictable, as polls indicate two moderates, López and Lautaro, could top the first-round vote. A runoff between López and Rodriguez will then likely determine who wins the presidency.

“I’m sure we will win in the second round,” López said. “But it is up to the voters, like the AFL [old People’s Party], the New Social Democracy, and the Union party, to mobilise and act to do this.”

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