José Antonio Kast, a Catholic politician who supports socially conservative policies and a free market economy, won a surprise victory on Sunday in the first round of Chile’s presidential elections.
He will now face a run-off against Gabriel Boric, the leader of a leftist coalition, on Dec. 19.
Kast, 55, the son of German Catholic immigrants who started a successful sausage business, is the father of nine children and has always been an outspoken supporter of the right to life of the unborn, traditional marriage, and the rights of parents concerning the education of their children.
He is also a member of the Schoenstatt Catholic movement, which was founded in Germany in 1914 and has a strong presence in Chile.
Kast started his political career as a congressman representing the center-right Democratic Union. In 2016, he left the party and became an independent until 2019, when he founded his own movement, Republican Action.
When Kast ran for president for the first time in 2017, he gained just 6% of the vote, running with the slogan “Fewer taxes, less government, pro-life.”
According to local analysts, Kant’s unexpected victory is a reaction to the crisis produced by violent protests that started in October 2019, driven by demands for higher salaries, improved pensions, and greater state participation to level the economic field.
The conservative Sebastián Piñera, the outgoing president, was forced into calling a plebiscite that decided in favor of re-writing the current constitution.
Chile was until recently regarded as the most stable and developed country in Latin America. But the ongoing violent protests moved many Chileans to vote for Kast, who promises stability, economic recovery, and support for traditional values.
Kast was projected to win 28% of the votes, followed by former protests leader Boric with 25%. The U.S.-educated libertarian Franco Parisi placed in third, with 14% of the votes, although he didn’t fly back to Chile from the U.S. for the elections.
Due to his conservative message, critics have called Kast “the Chilean Trump” and “the Chilean Bolsonaro,” after the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. They have also highlighted that he received support from several retired military officers and his oldest brother held ministerial positions during the infamous dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Kast presents himself as the leader of a new political movement in Chile based on three pillars: freedom, the strength of the traditional family, and the defense of law and order. Unlike Trump and Bolsonaro, Kast is known for his polite manners and respect for his ideological rivals and critics.
During a late-night off-the-cuff speech following his victory, Kast told a crowd of supporters: “The first thing is to give thanks to God, because this has been a peaceful day… and after God, I want to thank my family, my wife, and each one of my children.”