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A fresh face for Chilean politics

A young presidential candidate is shaking up Chile's political scene.

Chilean candidate for president Marco Enriquez-Ominami on June 3, 2009. (Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters)

SANTIAGO — The son of a famed revolutionary leader has burst onto the electoral scene in Chile, climbing in the polls with his promise of a generational power shift.

All of which has Congressman Marco Enriquez-Ominami, 36, driving the political establishment crazy. His surge in the presidential race began just a few months ago: From April to June, he went from being the choice of 6 percent of voters polled to 23 percent, according to surveys.

Full of harsh words for what he describes as an obsolete political system, Enriquez-Ominami resigned from the ruling Socialist Party in June to run as an independent candidate for president under the slogan “Marco: Because Chile has Changed.” He is the first presidential candidate under the age of 40 since the return to democracy in 1990, and in keeping with Chile's younger generations, he's one of the few politicians open to discussing issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I’m not breaking away from politics, but from its conventional practices. I am breaking away from dogmas about citizen rights, about how to combat poverty, about how to exercise democracy," he told GlobalPost. In his campaign, Enriquez-Ominami is emphasizing civil rights, political reforms and education.

A philosopher and filmmaker and, now, candidate, Enriquez-Ominami is sapping votes both from the government candidate, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, as well as from his main rival on the right, businessman Sebastian Pinera, who is currently leading the polls.

At first, Enriquez-Ominam's entrance in the race pleased members of Pinera's staff, since Enriquez-Ominami was drawing support away from Frei. But when Pinera fell 10 points in public opinion polls, in direct proportion to Enriquez-Ominami’s rise, the right fell silent.

Both Frei, who was president from 1994 to 2000, and Pinera, who ran and lost in the 2000 elections, recently appointed young activists to help lead their campaigns, in the hopes of attracting Chile's increasingly apathetic youth.

But Enriquez-Ominami is the real thing — not a surrogate campaign staffer. Fast-moving, fast-talking and known for his intelligence, he physically resembles his father, Miguel Enriquez, who led the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), a radical leftist organization born in the 1960s that believed in seizing power through armed struggle. Enriquez-Ominami's mother, a journalist, gave birth to Marco only three months before the military coup that ousted Socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973, ushering in 17 years of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.