Chile’s political journey that kicked off with the 2019 protests may be about to take an unexpected detour. The country looked likely to follow in the footsteps of its northern neighbour, Peru, in taking a leftward lurch in November’s general election. Historically a bastion of relative conservatism in Latin America, Chile seemed ready to elect a left-wing presidential candidate promising to tackle inequality, increase public spending and complete the constitutional overhaul. Claiming to embody the spirit of change, political newcomer Gabriel Boric and his leftist Broad Front coalition have dominated polling for months.

Throughout October, however, Mr Boric has been leapfrogged by Jose Antonio Kast, a right-wing populist compared to Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. Fresh nationwide anti-government and indigenous protest have driven growing support for the outsider, who has cannibalised votes from the former conservative consensus candidate Sebastian Sichel. Mr Kast, a self-professed supporter of Augusto Pinochet, has modelled himself as an advocate for stability amid civil unrest. He has also drawn on simmering anti-immigrant sentiment, manifested as attacks against Venezuelan refugees in the port city of Iquique in September.

It remains too early to forecast a swing to the right in Chile: Mr Kast continues to lag behind Mr Boric in second-round opinion polls. His controversial stance on social issues and rejection of expansionary fiscal policies run counter to the zeitgeist of the country’s political transition, alienating some moderate voters. Sustained political violence and unrest throughout a potentially fraught electoral process may benefit Mr Kast, however. A victory for him and his Republican Party would complicate Chile’s political outlook, raising the spectre of conflict between his government and a Constitutional Convention dominated by leftists. The proposed constitutional changes are due to be put to a popular vote in late 2022. Just like Peru, Chile’s political risks will escalate whether the road forks to the left of the right.