SANTIAGO – José Antonio Kast, former presidential candidate and independent senator, inscribed his political party Republican Action. The former UDI-member openly discussed joining the current Chile Vamos front of President Sebastián Piñera. The rightwing parties however don’t welcome him with open arms: “They know that he might win.”
After the surprising results at the presidential elections in 2017 (José Antonio Kast managed to obtain 7, 93 percent of the votes as independent candidate), it was expected that “J.A.K,” as the Senator is being called amongst his supporters, would run again for president in the upcoming elections, surfing on the current right-wing wave that is washing across South America.
This week, Kast officially inscribed his political party, Republican Action (Acción Republicana). The race for La Moneda has officially started for the far-right candidate.
This means, seeking political alliances. Chile Vamos, the current ruling political front, which includes his former political party, Independent Democratic Union (UDI), would be the most logic alliance, but Chile Vamos isn’t welcoming Kast with open arms, mainly because of his extremist ideology and possible success.
UDI: “We Don’t Want a Vox Effect”
José Manuel Edwards, a parliamentarian who joined Kast’s party, couldn’t have said it better. After the announcement that J.A.K. started his party and is aiming for participation at the presidential elections in 2021, he commented that: “Chile Vamos isn’t welcoming Kast because he might win.”
And this is true. The two major parties in the Chile Vamos front have their own reasons to watch the rise of Kast with a mix of fear and suspicion. UDI, Kast’s party for nearly 20 years, has its own candidates who might present a good bid during the elections.
Although Joaquin Lavín, the mayor of Las Condes, is presenting himself as a populist mayor who is attracting a lot of center and leftwing votes, he is still a man who can give UDI its first president ever. Other serious UDI candidates are Evelyn Matthei and Alfredo Moreno, while current Secretary of State Andrés Chadwick and Maipú mayor Cathy Barriga are also possibilities.
UDI president Jacqueline van Rysselberghe called Kast in an interview with Cooperativa “a good alternative for the existing parties in the Chile Vamos alliance.”
She added that if Kast really wanted to join the Chile Vamos alliance, “he should play by the rules of the game,” which means he must be chosen as candidate by the political front to compete in the primaries. But Van Rysselberghe also called upon Kast’s patriotism, by stating he could not criticize the government through the media.
“We don’t want to have an effect as in Spain with Vox, where the fragmentation of a political coalition eventually leads to the electoral debacle,” she said.
More on the elections:
RN: “It Doesn’t Make Sense That We Are Helping Kast”
National Renewal (RN), from sitting president Sebastián Piñera, is suffering from the high disapproval rates of the current administration and hopes to fill the center-right hole the Christian Democrats have left behind. Working with Kast in one alliance would mean a shift to the far right and a possible loss of votes that could mean a growth of center-left parties.
RN has its own presidential candidates with Andrés Allamand, Francisco Chahuán, and Manuel José Ossandón, and has been trying, more than the UDI, to distance itself from the controversial Senator.
Various RN parliamentarians were present at the official launch of Kast’s party, causing RN president Mario Desbordes to speak out. “Every member of RN should have clear that José Antonio Kast has legitimately decided to form a political party, and that makes common work incompatible in political, territorial and other terms, between members of RN and his party in formation. It doesn’t make sense to help form another party, being a RN-member.”
Kast’s Party: Not Free Of Controversy
So why do the ruling parties in Chile fear this far right phenomenon? Kast is controversial but popular. His ideology, his board members, statements from the past, and his political program as independent candidate during the presidential elections of 2017 (Kast surprised with nearly eight percent of the votes) all have close links to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
A lot of the board members of Kast’s Republican Action come from the UDI. One of them is Ignacio Urrutia, who became the topic of controversy in 2012, when he said that “any country can easily invade Chile if we let homosexuals join the army.”
Two years later, Urrutia infuriated the Chilean parliament when he requested a moment of silence for Augusto Pinochet, whose government he later called “glorious.” He called the war criminals in the Punta Peuco prison heroes and voted against the revocation of the Chilean nationality of the priest John O’Reilly, who was convicted of repeated sexual abuse of a minor.
Another party member is Gonzalo de la Carrera, a journalist who recently made headlines in Chile when he spread fake news about Communist Party member Camila Vallejo. De la Carrera had spread tweets about Vallejo, stating that she defended pedophilia.
And then there is Loreto Letelier, who said the victims of the Caso Quemados (a horrific episode of the military dictatorship in which two journalists were sprayed with fuel by soldiers and burned alive) set themselves on fire with a Molotov cocktail.
The ideology of the Republican Action doesn’t even differ that much from the political parties in the Chile Vamos front. At the party’s presentation, the party claimed to be a party “that believes in God and life, from conception to death,” meaning it is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage.
When Kast’s previously ran for president, among his planks were the removal of the Allende statue near La Moneda palace, a more aggressive use of the Anti-Terrorist Law against the Mapuche population, and the promotion of an open market economy.
Kast: the Chilean Bolsonaro?
These are among the reasons why Kast is being compared to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro won the presidential campaign in Brazil with racist and homophobic comments, has openly shown his admiration for both the Brazilian and the Chilean dictatorships, and was visited several times by Kast during his campaign.
Right-wing presidents are winning elections in South America, although for Kast right-wing is not enough, as according to his comments in a recent AND Radio interview, “most political parties in Chile who claim to be right-wing are in fact right-wing light.”
Considering the extremist opinions of Kast and his party members, that do not sit well with the image Chile tries to present on the international stage, opposition from both the left and the right against Kast are expected to intensify in the next months and years. But as Frente Amplio parliamentarian Gabriel Boric already said, in a somewhat curious comparison with Dragonball Z figure Majin Boo: “The more you hit him, the more he grows.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.