Authoritarian reaction is something of a Kast family trait. Michael Kast, JAK’s father, fought for the German army against the Soviets in World War II, and was a voluntary member of the Nazi Party in 1942.12Carlos López, ‘El clan Kast: el padre, el hijo y el espíritu santo…’, Rebelión, 18 December 2021, https://rebelion.org/el-clan-kast-el-padre-el-hijo-y-el-espiritu-santo/. Kast senior migrated to Chile in 1950, establishing himself in Paine, a rural community south of Santiago. He gradually built a nationwide network of restaurants and industrial centers for the manufacture of packaged meat.13Associated Press, ‘Chilean Presidential Candidate’s Father Was Member of Nazi Party’, The Guardian, 8 December 2021, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/08/chile-jose-antonio-kast-father-nazi-party; Federico Rivas Molina, ‘Una investigación prueba que el padre del candidato chileno José Antonio Kast fue miembro del partido nazi’, El País, 9 December 2021, sec. Internacional, https://elpais.com/internacional/2021-12-09/una-investigacion-prueba-que-el-padre-del-candidato-chileno-jose-antonio-kast-fue-miembro-del-partido-nazi.html. The Kast family was elevated politically and socially under Pinochet’s dictatorship. JAK’s brother, Miguel, obtained a Masters degree in economics from the University of Chicago and served as Minister of Labor and president of the Central Bank during the Pinochet regime.14‘Miguel Kast Rist’, Asociación de Ex Alumnos del Colegio Hispano Americano, accessed 24 December 2021, https://excha.cl/galeria/ex-alumnos-destacados/servicio-publico/item/56-miguel-kast-rist. When Miguel died of bone cancer at 34 years of age, he became a mythic figure on the Chilean far right. Investigative journalists have also exposed a potential facilitative role played by another brother, Christian, alongside Kast senior, in the torture and disappearance of one of their employees in Paine, who was a member of the MIR at the time of his disappearance.15El Mostrador, ‘Los Kast en los crímenes de Paine’, El Mostrador, 6 November 2014, sec. Destacado, https://www.elmostrador.cl/noticias/pais/2014/11/06/los-kast-en-los-crimenes-de-paine/.
Cleaved internally along the lines of democratic respectability, the travails of the post-dictatorship Chilean right are traceable to the referendum of 1988. Political movements backing the “No” campaign that year subsequently congealed under the center-left coalition of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia and secured themselves in office for the coming decades. Those behind “Yes” to pinochetista continuity, meanwhile, hunkered down in the defensive trenches of preserving the dictatorship’s legacy, especially as symbolized by the 1980 Constitution.16Titelman, ‘La «derecha sin complejos» que busca frenar el cambio en Chile’. This avowedly pinochetista right-wing proved inadequate to the early democratic contests of 1989 and 1993, on both cases allowing the center-left to win handily in the first round, having captured more than 50 percent of the votes.17Titelman.
Responding to these feeble electoral showings, the Chilean right gradually repositioned itself more proximately to the centrism of the Concertación. In 1999, this strategy forced the center-left into a run-off presidential round for the first time since the return to democracy, and in 2009 it finally ensured Sebastián Piñera’s rise to the presidency – the first time in half a century that the Chilean right formed a government via the electoral path.18Titelman. The break with Pinochet was never clean, with currents of the mainstream right-wing parties refusing to renounce the Pinochet ideal; but more and more, explicit references became a taboo. More roundabout defenses continued to be permitted, as evidenced by the fact that the traditional parties of the post-dictatorial right-wing coalition, Renovación Nacional (National Renovation, RN) and the Unión Democrática Independiente (Independent Democratic Union,UDI), only formally deleted from their party programs apologia for the 1973 coup in 2014 and 2018, respectively.19Titelman.
Unsatisfied with the moderating turn of the Chilean electoral right, Kast left the UDI in 2016, disparaging the party’s departure from its “foundational project.” As a political independent in this period, Kast ostentatiously wed himself to the legacy of Pinochet, and gathered 8 percent of the vote on this niche ticket in the 2017 presidential election.20Titelman. So far, the story runs parallel to Bolsonaro’s long political career on the far periphery of institutional political influence in Brazil, before he was catapulted to the presidency. The similarities don’t end there. What were the circumstances that allowed for Kast’s ascent from 8 percent in 2017 to the lead position in the first round, and very respectable finish in the second round of 2021? His arch of ascension parallels the timing of early institutional victories for the left on the terrain of the constitutional process. In particular, Kast was boosted by the impotency of Chilean centrism in the face of these left-wing advances.
The first of these moments was the plebiscite on a new constitution on October 25, 2020. To the initial question posed to the population – “Do you want a new constitution?” – the response was a resounding 78.3 percent “Approve.”21“Apruebo,” or “I approve”: hence the origin of the Apruebo Dignidad coalition. “Reject” garnered only 21.7 percent of the vote; even more significantly, the latter gained a majority in only five communes in the entire country, three of which were the wealthiest anywhere in Chile.22Pablo Abufom and Karina Nohales, ‘Triunfo popular’, Jacobin América Latina, 26 October 2020, https://jacobinlat.com/2020/10/26/triunfo-popular/. A democratic demand sustained for over four decades – to bury the constitution of Pinochet alongside the bones of the grotesque himself – had finally been secured by the revolts of October 2019. “What the parties that administered the democratic transition couldn’t do in thirty years,” Pablo Abufom and Karina Nohales rightly point out, “the working class accomplished in a few months.”23Abufom and Nohales. “What body should be responsible for the writing of the new constitution?” So read the second question posed in the plebiscite. For 79 percent of voters, all delegates to the Constitutional Convention should be popularly elected, and there should be gender parity among them. For 21 percent, there should be no rule of gender parity, and only half the delegates should be popularly elected, with the remaining half composed by the existing congress, at the time divided between the discredited center-left and center-right.24Abufom and Nohales.
Body blows against Chilean centrism continued to mount the following May, this time in the form of simultaneous mayoral, local council, and gubernatorial elections, alongside a vote to select delegates to the 155-seat Constitutional Convention. For the latter contest, the center-right joined the far-right under the unity ticket of Chile Vamos. Pundits were unanimous in the view that Chile Vamos would certainly win at least the 52 of 155 seats necessary for veto power. (The Constitutional Convention was designed such that a two-thirds majority was necessary to advance every article in the constitutional process, an in-built conservatizing function.) Instead, the united right would have to settle for only 37 seats, roughly 23 percent of the total.25Franck Gaudichaud, ‘In Chile, the Traditional Parties Collapse’, Le Monde Diplomatique, 18 May 2021, English Edition edition, https://mondediplo.com/outsidein/chile-traditional-parties-collapse. Meanwhile, the list bringing together the Communists and the Broad Front won 28 seats, three seats more than the combined performance of the social-liberal parties of the former Concertación (15 for the Socialist Party, and only two for the Christian Democrats).26Gaudichaud.
Most novel, though, were those Convention votes that went to leftist expressions of the “anti-political” conjuncture. A remarkable 48 seats were captured by independent candidates, some of whom were right-wing conspiracists, but most of whom were progressive candidates, like feminist Alondra Carrillo (of the 8M Feminist Coordinator), or independents from social movements connected through joint tickets, such as those of the Social Movement Constituents, or the People’s List, or, alternatively, delegates numbering among the 17 seats reserved for indigenous peoples, seats now occupied in the main by indigenous activists embedded in historic movements for liberation.27Abufom, ‘Chile’. The spirit of October also fed into the municipal disputes. For example, Jorge Sharp, a long-time activist on the anti-neoliberal left, was re-elected mayor of Valparaíso, while Communist Daniel Jadue won the mayoralty of Recoleta, a municipality within the Santiago Metropolitan Region.28Gaudichaud, ‘In Chile, the Traditional Parties Collapse’. Irací Hassler, a feminist activist and Communist, became mayor of the Commune of Santiago, effectively downtown Santiago. At the gubernatorial level, the environmental activist and agricultural engineer, Rodrigo Mundaca, won the region of Valparaíso.29Gaudichaud.
Not all of the news was positive. The representational crisis of the traditional party system which spawned the polyvalent “anti-politics” of the moment found a depressing expression in the unprecedented rate of abstention. An alarming 61.4 percent of the electorate didn’t turn out to vote, with abstention reaching 65-70% in working-class municipalities.30Gaudichaud. Still, the overall dynamic of the May 2021 elections, and especially those of the Constitutional Convention, was unanticipatedly weak performance by the united right, and an overarching discrediting of traditional political parties. The Convention would thus be composed by a range of delegates weighted toward an eclectic melange of social-movement and party elements of the left and center-left, with the former stronger than the latter in the progressive bloc.