Chile’s extreme right resurfaces after presidential defeat – Diario Digital

The leader of the Chilean Republican Party, José Antonio Kast, lost a presidential runoff to leftist Gabriel Boric in December 2021 – Copyright AFP JAVIER TORRES

Chile’s far-right may have been bled in a deeply divisive presidential race in 2021, but Sunday’s elections for a body that will rewrite the country’s dictatorship-era constitution have shown it to be an enduring force.

Led by conservative lawyer José Antonio Kast, an apologist for the late military dictator Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s Republican Party won 23 of the 51 seats on the council that will design a new framework for the country’s future.

The result of Sunday’s vote does not alter the balance of power in the Chilean parliament, where the extreme right is in the minority.

But it gives the Kast Republican Party founded in 2019 overwhelming influence in drafting the document that will shape Chile’s new identity.

“Most likely, something very similar to the 1980 (constitution) will come out” of the drafting process, said Claudia Heiss of the University of Chile.

In effect, this would maintain the status quo in the South American country that appeared to be on a trajectory to the left since anti-government protests erupted in 2019 against deep social inequality.

The protests led to a 2020 referendum in which 80 percent voted to replace the Pinochet-era constitution.

In May 2021, Chileans chose a largely left-leaning body to write a new constitution, and that December they chose millennial leftist Gabriel Boric as president over Kast.

Then the tide seemed to turn: Last year, more than 61 percent of voters rejected the constitutional project that would have made Chile one of the most progressive countries in Latin America.

It would have allowed elective abortion and expanded indigenous rights, all elements of Boric’s leftist reform agenda.

And on Sunday, voters opted for a majority of members of the Republican Party on the writing body.

– ‘Vote of no confidence’ –

Kast, 57, had campaigned against replacing Chile’s existing constitution, which is pro-free markets and widely accused of enriching business and the elite at the expense of the poor working classes.

His party’s success on Sunday, experts say, can be explained by real concerns about criminal insecurity, high inflation and immigration in one of the most socially unequal countries in the world.

Boric’s approval rating is a low 30 percent.

“It was an anti-political vote, a vote of no confidence and a vote not only against the process (of drafting the constitution) but also against the traditional political parties,” analyst Rodrigo Espinoza, from the Diego Portales University, told AFP.

Kast himself said that after Sunday’s result, there was hope for “a big change of government” ahead of next year’s municipal elections and the 2025 general election, with Boric ineligible due to a constitutionally limited single term.

A recent poll put Kast ahead in the people’s presidential preference.

Boric had campaigned on the promise of turning Chile into a greener, more equal “welfare state” and came to power in a country crying out for change.

One percent of Chile’s population owns around a quarter of its wealth, and in 2021, the wealthy classes voted in large numbers for Kast, an active member of a conservative Catholic movement that has shrugged off attempts to label him as “extremist”.

– ‘Cultural restoration’ –

Kast, a father of nine children, has expressed admiration for Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, opposes gay marriage and abortion, and wants to cut taxes.

Many of those who voted for Kast for president approved of his stance against crime, migration and the “communism” they associate with the political left.

“It is an extreme right-wing party with a cultural restoration project,” said Marcelo Mella, a political scientist at the University of Santiago.

Kast’s presidential bid included promises to cut social spending, cut taxes and cut the number of ministries, including women’s affairs.

He also vowed to restore order at a time when many Chileans were glaring at violence and arson by some anti-government protesters.

A new constitutional project will be put to a general vote in December.

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