A far-right lawmaker and an ex-protester have prevailed in Chile's presidential election with a narrow gap between them, leading Chile towards a runoff between two political extremes.

Chilean presidential candidate for the Partido Republicano party Jose Antonio Kast (L) and the candidate for the leftist Apruebo Dignidad party Gabriel Boric (R).
Chilean presidential candidate for the Partido Republicano party Jose Antonio Kast (L) and the candidate for the leftist Apruebo Dignidad party Gabriel Boric (R). (AFP)

A conservative lawmaker with a history of defending Chile’s military rule and a former student protest leader have been headed to a polarising presidential runoff after Sunday's presidential elections.

Both candidates failed to garner enough votes to win the South American country’s election outright on Sunday.

The top two candidates of the election are from opposite extremes of the political spectrum, setting up a polarising December 19 runoff in the region’s most advanced economy.

In Chile's electoral system, if no candidate secures a 50% majority, the two top finishers compete in a runoff.

Jose Antonio Kast, a lawmaker who has a history of defending Chile’s military dictatorship, finished first with 28% of the vote compared to 26% for former student protest leader Gabriel Boric.

Whoever wins will take over a country in the grips of major change but uncertain of its future course after decades of centrist reforms that largely left untouched Pinochet's economic model.

READ MORE: Chileans head to the polls to elect new president

Opposite extremes

Boric, 35, would become Chile's youngest modern president. He was among several student activists elected to Congress in 2014 after leading protests for higher quality education.

If elected, he says he will raise taxes on the “super rich” to expand social services and boost protections of the environment. He's also vowed to eliminate the country's private pension system.

Kast, 55, from the newly formed Republican Party, emerged from the far right fringe after having won less than 8% of the vote in 2017 as an independent.

He's been steadily rising in the polls this time with a divisive discourse emphasising conservative family values as well as attacking migrants, many from Haiti and Venezuela, he blames for crime.

Kast blasted Boric as a puppet of Chile's Communist Party, a member of the broad coalition supporting his candidacy, who would pardon “terrorists," be soft on crime and promote instability.

In sharp contrast, Boric refrained from attacking Kast by name and urged his supporters to listen to and convince doubters who voted for other candidates.

“Our crusade is for hope to defeat fear,” said Boric.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies