TV-celebrity pop­ulist out to shake up his coun­try – from the left

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Jonathan Watts Latin Amer­ica cor­re­spon­dent

A TV celebrity aims to be­come pres­i­dent so he can shake up a pro­foundly con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. But this time it is not Don­ald Trump in the United States but a left­wing, green-minded for­mer news an­chor in Chile.

Ale­jan­dro Guil­lier, a vet­eran jour­nal­ist who launched the weekly TV show Zero Tol­er­ance, has surged to sec­ond place in the polls in re­cent months. It puts him in a strong po­si­tion to rep­re­sent the rul­ing Nueva May­oría (New Ma­jor­ity) coali­tion in the pres­i­den­tial poll on 19 Novem­ber.

There is still a long way to go, but the first-term sen­a­tor ap­pears to be en­joy­ing an al­most Trump-like po­lit­i­cal as­cent – first be­com­ing the only up­per house rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his small Rad­i­cal So­cial Demo­cratic party and now, as pri­mary cam­paigns are about to be­gin, hav­ing pulled ahead of can­di­dates from big­ger par­ties in the gov­ern­ing bloc.

In the lat­est Adi­mark poll, Guil­lier was backed by 25%, while his near­est ri­val on the left had 4%. The favourite, how­ever, re­mains for­mer pres­i­dent Se­bastián Piñera, a con­ser­va­tive bil­lion­aire who has a 29% sup­port rate, de­spite mul­ti­ple cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions.

The Econ­o­mist has sug­gested that Guil­lier could yet em­u­late Trump by rid­ing a pop­ulist wave to snatch vic­tory. But de­spite the par­al­lels in tra­jec­tory and celebrity, the two could not be fur­ther apart in at­ti­tude and ide­ol­ogy.

“Yes, I am pop­u­lar be­cause for 25 years I was on TV and ra­dio, reach­ing the homes and work­places of Chileans,” Guil­lier said in a tele­phone in­ter­view with the Guardian. “But I am as dis­tant from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as I am from the Venezuela gov­ern­ment. For me, it’s im­por­tant to build a con­sen­sus.”

His poli­cies – in­creased spend­ing on health, ed­u­ca­tion and pen­sions; im­proved ac­cess to abor­tions; greater au­ton­omy and author­ity for com­munes; wider recog­ni­tion of in­dige­nous rights – have much in com­mon with the out­go­ing cen­tre-left pres­i­dent, Michelle Bachelet, who can­not stand again be­cause of term limit rules. Guiller has pledged to do more to strengthen Chile’s cli­mate re­silience and to sup­port greater re­gional in­te­gra­tion and trade agree­ments.

Hav­ing just re­turned from a trip to China, he sees a fu­ture of closer links to Asia, the US and Europe. He pre­dicts China – which al­ready ac­counts for 28% of Chile’s trade, com­pared with 16% for the US – will play more of a lead­er­ship role.

But the for­mer jour­nal­ist is enough of a pop­ulist to as­sert that he is more in step with vot­ers than the es­tab­lished par­ties.

“Our so­ci­ety is more pro­gres­sive than its eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers,” he said. “Chile has dra­mat­i­cally changed in the last 10 to 15 years. I’m very proud of what has been ac­com­plished.

“Peo­ple look at Chile with re­spect, but we need to make a leap to a freer so­ci­ety with greater equal­ity. We must rein­vent our­selves a thou­sand and one times.”

Ale­jan­dro Guil­lier, a first-time sen­a­tor, is the only mem­ber of his party in the up­per house, but 25% of vot­ers back him ahead of the Novem­ber poll

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