Will an ultra-conservative be Chile's next president?

SANTIAGO – Chilean ultra-conservative Jose Antonio Kast, sometimes compared to Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro, is in the driver’s seat to become the Andean country’s next president after leading a first round election on Sunday.

Kast took first place with around 28% of the vote with the most ballot papers tallied, ahead of 35-year-old former student leader Gabriel Boric with 25.6%, meaning the two will go into a polarized runoff election on December 19th.

The 55-year-old lawyer, Catholic and father of nine children, speaks disarmingly quietly, even if he promises tough action against crime and a lean state. He praised the “economic legacy” of the former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“We will work to restore peace, order, progress and our freedom,” Kast said late on Sunday in his voting bunker.

“We still have a way to go. We will move forward with everyone because this is a triumph for all of Chile. “

Kast, the candidate for the Christian Social Front, has become a flag bearer of Chile’s “outrageous” right wing hardened in 2019 in response to the rise of the progressive political left following angry and sometimes violent street protests.

“They call us intolerant and extreme because we are telling the truth and saying things directly. In contrast to the left, we have never advocated violence, ”wrote Kast on Twitter at the end of October.

Critics say his treatment of the political class – he has called Congress a “circus” – and proposals that include building a moat to contain illegal immigration are reminiscent of right-wing populist leaders like Bolsonaro and former US President Donald Trump.

But he has downplayed these comparisons and tried to temper his image before the vote, trying to keep distance between him and the unpopular ruling center-right government of Sebastian Pinera.

“We want to unite, we want to enter into a dialogue with everyone, regardless of political affiliation,” he told business leaders at an event on November 11th. “I am a direct and open person, but I am always respectful.”

For his critics, Kast is a return to the era of the brutal dictatorship under Pinochet in the 1970s and 1980s, which, while establishing much of the successful Chilean economic model, created a large gap between a small, wealthy elite and most Chileans.

Kast’s brother Michael was a minister in the military regime. Jose Kast ran for president in 2017 and finished fourth. He said if Pinochet were still alive he would have voted for him.

Kast has pledged to rebuild economic growth and “restore order” following the 2019 protests that burned down buildings around the capital, Santiago and injured thousands in street conflicts with police.

“We will be free from crime and violence,” he said in his speech on Sunday as he targeted his rival Boric for his alleged support for “vandals” and his alliance with the Communist Party in his broad left coalition.

“This December we will not only elect a president, we will choose between freedom and communism, between democracy and communism.”

Kast has little patience with protesters and has questioned the work of an elected assembly preparing a new draft Constitution to replace the Pinochet era text.

He also promised to tackle tensions with the indigenous Mapuche people in the south with a strong hand.

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