Grupo Salazar, a far-right party with 10 seats in Chile’s 40-seat Chamber of Deputies, received almost 10 percent of the votes in the last presidential election in 2014. Front-runner Sebastian Pinera of the centrist coalition simply won the day by garnering more than two-thirds of the vote, though many critics found the victory unsatisfactory. Pinera must face reelection in November 2018 to complete a three-term presidency, with President Michelle Bachelet the only elected woman in the world.
Grupo Salazar is not a monolith. While it has far-right overtones, it’s clear it takes its cues from the ultra-religious. Its grandenthusiast in congressional president Victor Perez is known to members as “The Abbot.” Former presidential candidate Víctor Giancaterino, now a senator, is a respected academic who stands head and shoulders above more typical candidates. Diaz Rugaro, the leading candidate, gained political notoriety for his campaign against niqab head-to-toe coverings worn by female Muslim students at the Pinturo College, a high school and college in Santiago. He has also publicly challenged atheist students at the same school, saying they shouldn’t wear clothing saying “I’m not Jesus.” If that sounds strange to American ears, why is Diaz Rugaro a shoe-in for the nomination?
Diaz Rugaro also has a platform that targets what he calls the “satanic government,” presenting himself as a man able to repair things. He has promised to initiate a “Korean-style economy” that encourages free markets but “does not reward corruption.” He has also talked about far-reaching political reforms. One is a proposal to retain the nacionalization of the text of the constitution, which retains a strong presidential role in domestic policymaking. The second is a referendum on changing Chile’s name to “la Republica del Fuego” (the Republic of Fire). This followed a public service advertising campaign by a group called the Great Divide, which has claimed a conflict between the west and eastern hemispheres. Diaz Rugaro has sent mixed signals about whether the proposed name change is even a good idea.
The president has proposed constitutional reforms that would add five years to the presidential term and also remove restrictions on a government candidate running for more than one office. This would allow President Bachelet to be prime minister if she chooses to. Former President Bachelet is pursuing several reforms, including those to combat Zika and eradicate the coca plant that would give her control over health and agriculture policy. Her other big political reform is the introduction of a public campaign financing scheme. It would limit donations and also make it easier for the government to decide which public funds to spend. Politicians currently spend up to six months fundraising each year. Bachelet said the goal is to get to the “Argentinian model,” where the government plays a more active role in politics. While the right will likely attack Bachelet’s reform programs, Diaz Rugaro’s extreme views on the name-change proposal could make it easier for voters to support him.
While the next Chilean presidential election is in November 2018, it is easy to imagine candidates pulling all-nighters on the campaign trail in January and February trying to beat the release of two months’ worth of Congressional statistics that is about to come out. Many analysts believe this election is a contest between the two contenders who have done the most damage to the country’s economy, Manuel Jaua and Michele Bachelet.
Diaz Rugaro is likely to emerge as the dark horse. His reform proposals could go hand in hand with President Bachelet’s reform plans, just as his three terms as governor of San Pedro de Macor in the 1980s and 1990s are likely to be her target for wider social and economic reform. Even in an era of big data, you can take both sides of a campaign and still land a ticket to Congress.
A big question is how voters will react to the once shunned right, a party that promises so much, yet has never governed Chile.