Pablo Longueira is no Bernie Sanders or Emmanuel Macron.
Mr. Longueira represents one of the more distasteful facets of the so-called “populist wave” that has been sweeping through Europe in recent years. In Chile, the president is deeply unpopular, and the senator previously worked for a private security firm that employed paramilitaries in the 1990s.
Yet Mr. Longueira’s story speaks to something larger, and – for Chileans – particularly disturbing, about the current political scene in the country.
After Chile emerged from eight years of military dictatorship, Mr. Longueira was a young senator who was elected in 2000, where he served through 2008, becoming governor of the southern Chile province of Arauco from 2013 to 2016.
Chile’s public opinion has been shaped by violent conflicts over land rights, water and oil. Mr. Longueira’s years in power saw, as Reuters notes, a surge in violence in resource-rich areas like Arauco. The senator, for his part, went so far as to co-author a bill that made it possible for violent miners to continue their activities.
Mr. Longueira’s history and past alliances will likely not endear him to many voters. But the fact that he has won the Republican party nomination to contest the fall presidential election, and looks increasingly like the strongest rival to center-left candidate Sebastian Pinera and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, indicates a groundswell of disillusionment with both the left and the right.
Mr. Longueira was clearly encouraged by the exit polls suggesting that he beat left-wing candidate Alejandro Guillier by nearly 20 percentage points in Sunday’s nomination contest. In a phone call with Reuters, he proclaimed the polls wrong, and added that he could beat Mr. Pinera in the November election – polls show the incumbent president winning comfortably, with a 28-point lead.
Mr. Longueira is making his appeal to Chileans from his home town of Los Banos, a rural town in northern Chile.
“In Los Banos, people have strong traditional links to family and relatives, they have a feeling of loyalty, they have nostalgia, and nostalgia for things before [Chile’s dictatorship], when they were proud of their country,” he told Reuters.
If Mr. Longueira comes close to matching his standing in the polls, it may provide a reminder of the links that bind people together in places like Los Banos. That is a notion that could serve as a sharp contrast with much of the rhetoric coming from the current populist wave in Europe.
(AP Photo/Carlos Alvarez)