Who Are Gabriel Boric & Jose Kast, the Political Opposites Vying for Chile’s Presidency?
© REUTERS / Elvis GonzalezChilean presidential candidates Gabriel Boric, of left-wing coalition 'Apruebo Dignidad' (I Approve Dignity), and Jose Antonio Kast of the far-right Republican Party, pose for pictures before a live televised debate ahead of December 19 second round presidential elections in Santiago, Chile, December 13, 2021.
Chileans will head to the polls on Sunday to decide their president for the next four years, choosing between two oil-and-water candidates invoking either the country’s past or its future.
Gabriel Boric and Jose Kast finished the first round of voting on November 22 neck-and-neck, with Kast only slightly ahead with 27.9% of the votes and Boric with 25.8%, together beating out five other candidates. Now, they head to a second round of voting between just the two of them.
However, the most recent polls show Boric ahead, according to El Desconcierto.
The Chilean electorate is composed of some 14.8 million registered voters as of October 2020, when the national referendum on drafting a new constitution to replace the Augusto Pinochet-era magna carta was held - and approved by a huge margin.
The referendum was the product of massive demonstrations that rocked the country in the final months of 2019, and Sunday’s election is in many ways its outcome as well, with the right-wing Kast representing the establishment’s last attempt to hold onto that world, and left-wing Boric representing many of the political aspirations behind the protests, such as economic reform and the shedding of a hands-off approach to society by the government.
Jose Antonio Kast, the ‘Firm Hand’
José Antonio Kast Rist, 51, is the candidate for the Republican Party, which he formed in 2019, and the candidate for the Christian Social Front alliance. He previously was a member of the Independent Democratic Union (IDU), a party that closely supported the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who Kast has boasted “would vote for me” if he were still alive.
Kast served four years as a city councilmember in Buin, a southern suburb of the capital of Santiago before becoming a Chamber of Deputies representative from San Bernardo, another city to the north. He resigned as secretary general of the IDU in 2017, when he first ran for president.
© REUTERS / RODRIGO GARRIDOChilean presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast from the far-right Republican Party meets with his supporters during a campaign rally, ahead of the December 19 second round presidential elections, in Vina del Mar, Chile, December 6, 2021.
Chilean presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast from the far-right Republican Party meets with his supporters during a campaign rally, ahead of the December 19 second round presidential elections, in Vina del Mar, Chile, December 6, 2021.
Kast’s fondness for far-right politics was imbued in him since birth. His father, Michael Kast, was a member of the Nazi Party and a lieutenant in the German Reichswehr, serving in the occupation of Crimea and fighting against the Soviet Red Army in 1943 and 1944 on the Ukrainian front. His father disguised his Nazi ties after the war and fled the Denazification program to go to Chile, where Jose was born in 1966.
In Chile, Michael Kast joined Pinochet’s security apparatus after the September 11, 1973, military coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist, President Salvador Allende. He worked in the National Information Center, which the dictatorship used to disappear thousands of leftists, government critics, and others whose existence was deemed incongruent with the new regime.
Jose’s brother, Michael Kast, was also known as one of the “Chicago Boys,” American-educated economists who carried the neoliberal vision of Milton Friedman from the University of Chicago to Chile, where Pinochet’s government used it to privatize the country’s publicly-owned industries and social programs.
Jose Kast has pledged to “resolutely and rigidly” the legacy of those times, which persists for the moment in the country’s constitution. He wants to cut taxes, regulations and public spending, pointing to both the growing public debt and struggling economy after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the social front, he’s pledged to repeal a 2017 law that made abortion, previously illegal, allowable in certain circumstances, and he opposes the bill passed by the National Congress last week that will legalize civil unions for same-gender couples. He’s also railed against migrants, invoking a Donald Trump-like solution by proposing a three-meter ditch be dug along the country’s northern border to keep out migrants and refugees.
Kast was strongly against the 2019 protests, calling them “terrorism” - the same word he used for protests by indigenous Mapuche communities - and an “anti-social explosion.” After the protests were brutally suppressed by police and the carabinero paramilitary forces, Kast pledged his “unconditional support” for them.
Gabriel Boric, the Activist
Gabriel Boric Font, 35, comes from an immigrant family as well, being born in 1986 to Croatian and Catalan parents in Punta Arenas, capital of Chile’s southern Magallanes province.
Boric got his political start as a student at the University of Chile Law School, where he became president of the Student Federation and one of the main student spokespersons during the 2011 student protests against the rising costs of education.
© REUTERS / RODRIGO GARRIDOChilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric, of left-wing coalition 'Apruebo Dignidad' (I Approve Dignity), speaks to residents, at a neighbourhood campaign rally in Vina del Mar, Chile December 15, 2021.
Chilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric, of left-wing coalition 'Apruebo Dignidad' (I Approve Dignity), speaks to residents, at a neighbourhood campaign rally in Vina del Mar, Chile December 15, 2021.
He became a delegate to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013, running as an independent candidate and scoring a rare victory outside the country’s two-party system in the Region of Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic. He was reelected in 2017 with an even greater plurality. He has cycled through membership in several leftist parties, most recently Social Convergence (SC), on whose ticket he is running for president.
Boric was also elected head of the broad leftist electoral front Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity), formed in January and including SC as well as the Communist Party of Chile, Commons, Humanist Action, the Social Green Regionalist Federation, and several other leftist parties.
"If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave," Boric said when he became the bloc’s candidate. "Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country."
“The ‘Chilean miracle’ was just for the outside world, not for us,” he has also said. “But when you talk to people in low-income neighborhoods, they will look around and ask you where this progress can actually be found.”
Boric has embraced the social demands of the protests that began in 2019, promising to address the country’s incredible inequality and costs of living, which are untenable for three out of five Chileans, according to the country’s National Statistics Institute.
His program is virtually a mirror image of Kast’s: Boric would increase taxes on major industries and dramatically increase public spending on social services. Boric has also promised to overhaul the country’s hated private pension system, which requires Chileans to invest part of their income in their own accounts on the stock market, and to replace it with a public pension system.
The pension debate helped fuel the 2019 protests, and since then the system has drawn even more ire as Congress has voted three times since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow Chileans to withdraw 10% of their pension funds to help them cope with job losses.
Similarly, he has also proposed to turn the country’s privatized water system into a public resource.
Boric seems to have won the endorsement of Chile’s most prominent international figure, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, who served as Chile’s president from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018, on the Socialist Party ticket. According to La Tercera, after she arrived in the country on Sunday to take part in the vote, she met privately with Boric at his home before making a public statement on Tuesday about her intent to vote for him.
Despite his lefist credentials, Boric managed to raise some eyebrows during the campaign as he seemed to moderate some of his positions.
After making it into the second round of voting in November, Boric embarked on a barnstorming tour of Chile, sending four delegations across the very long country in an attempt to win over the centrist vote. Kast went on tour as well, visiting prominent conservative figures in the United States like US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), an enthusiastic supporter of right-wing movements in Latin America.