José Antonio Kast is the man of the hour in Chile. In the past few weeks, the right-wing populist has steadily increased in the polls. Now he is ahead of all the other six candidates and is the favorite in Sunday’s presidential election. His entry into the runoff is almost certain. Some time ago, few had the 55-year-old lawyer and former MPs on the bill.
In the last election four years ago, the son of German emigrants ran as an outsider and received just under eight percent of the vote. The views of Kast, who openly sympathized with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, were too extreme. His promises, including the construction of a border fence in northern Chile against immigration, were too radical.
But times have changed. Extreme political positions are no longer a taboo, but rather enjoy great attraction, especially in social networks. Chile is no exception. Following the example of right-wing populist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, with whom he is often compared and friends, Kast has been investing in his digital presence for a long time.
On various channels, he is close to the people and humble and as someone who takes things by their word. He presents himself as an advocate of conservative values and as a guardian of law and order. He also defends the economically liberal model of Chile. With the “Republican Party” he founded, Kast positions himself explicitly to the right of the conservative government alliance of President Sebastián Piñera.
A joint coalition ruled out Kast. His likely entry into the runoff election is likely to make him the only remaining option for the right – and a temptation for many conservative and liberal voters.
Kast benefits from the growing polarization in Chile. A wave of protests triggered two years ago, borne by the call for change and overshadowed by a lot of violence and counter-violence, turned Chile, long considered unshakable, on its head. The protest movement managed to put the conservative government of President Piñera and the Congress under such pressure that they paved the way for the drafting of a new constitution to replace the existing one from the time of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
But that’s not all. The protests have shaken the foundations of the political system in Chile and pulled the carpet from under the feet of the small group of political establishment.
Dissolution of the moderate forces
The moderate forces have also lost the favor of the voters to the left of the center. A new left has grown up, which has become the political mouthpiece of many, especially young Chileans, and has taken over the demands of the social protests. Already after the election four years ago there was talk of the end of the “Concertación” pact between the socialists, Christian Democrats and other center-left parties that had ruled Chile for twenty years after the end of the dictatorship.
At the latest with the election on Sunday, in which the House of Representatives and some of the senators will be re-elected, the moderate political structure in Chile should completely dissolve. A foretaste of that came from this year’s Constituent Assembly elections, in which traditional parties performed very poorly.
In addition to Kast, the 35-year-old former student leader, lawyer and MP Gabriel Boric will be in the runoff election. Boric embodies the Chile of the protest movement. Although he is considered willing to compromise and moderate, he is too far left for many Chileans.
For his candidacy, Boric and his “Broad Front” entered into an alliance with the communists. That makes him the ideal opponent for Kast, who like Bolsonaro warns of “Venezuelanization”. At least in the predictions for a runoff election, Boric is ahead of Kast, but not unattainable.
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